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BEREC consults on updated net neutrality (open internet) guidelines

This has been an item on BEREC’s agenda for some time and follows a May 2019 workshop on the plans. The consultation is open until 28 November 2019.

Background: Since 2016, BEREC has played a key role in the application of the EU’s Regulation on open internet access. As required by the Regulation, BEREC adopted guidelines which help national authorities apply the regulation. BEREC has now prepared an update to the BEREC Net Neutrality Guidelines that have been re-named the BEREC Guidelines on the Implementation of the Open Internet Regulation. BEREC is now inviting all stakeholders to submit their observations and contributions regarding the draft Guidelines.

What’s being proposed? First off, it’s worth making clear that BEREC considers the current guidelines as having worked well, but could be clarified in certain instances. The changes are helpfully summarised in a table in the consultation document – and most are indeed minor clarifications. 

New guidelines on zero rating: Perhaps the biggest change is in relation to the practice of zero rating. New guidance is given to provide best practice on open zero-rating programmes that are less likely to restrict end-user choice or undermind innovation. Stakeholders argued that zero-rating programmes are often not transparent, that it is unclear for content and application providers if they are eligible to join a programme, and it is unclear how long it will take to go through the ap-plication procedure. BEREC is providing best practices to address these concerns and even a step-by-step assessment that national regulators can use to assess such offers.

5G has also resulted in some proposed changes: Stakeholders have argued (particularly during the May 2019 workshop), that certain services related to 5G will require specific network conditions, and that assessment of specialised services should take place over a longer timescale. There have even been some concerns that wording in the current guidelines is too restrictive and could prevent ISPs from implementing these so called specialised services in relation to 5G. BEREC has taken these points onboard and they are reflected in the changes made.