Europe’s highest court gives a ‘zero rating” again

The European Union’s highest court has ruled against ‘zero ratings’. It said for the second time that this controversial carrier practice is in violation of the rules regarding open Internet access.

“Zero Rating” refers to the commercial offers mobile network operators can make to customers to lure them by exempting data consumption from certain apps (often very popular) from their tariff.

This practice, also known as ‘net neutrality’ or ‘level playing fields’ is controversial.

The EU legislature passed its first open Internet/net neutrality rules in 2015. It became effective in 2016. However, critics raised concerns about the vague provisions of the regulation. They suggested that carriers could use them to subvert the core fairness principle which requires all Internet traffic be treated equally.

There have been some challenges raised by the fact that regional telcos continue to offer zero rating options — which has made it difficult to prove the strength of the law. The double denial by the CJEU has cast doubt on the viability and viability of zero rating in the EU.

The court’s first major ruling last year, relating to Telenor Hungary challenge, found commercial use of zero ratings was susceptible to restrict the exercise of rights of end users within the scope of the regulation.

Today’s decision, which concerns a challenge to zero rating by Vodafone Germany and Telekom Deutschland in Germany (this is with a roaming component), seems to have reached an even more clear conclusion. The court gave very little thought to the matter.

The Court of Justice noted that the ‘zero-tarif’ option (such as the ones at issue in main proceedings) draws distinctions within internet traffic on the basis of commercial considerations by not being counted towards basic package traffic to partner requests. This commercial practice violates the requirement of the regulation on open Internet access to ensure equal treatment. It is summarized in a brief press release.

It added that the EU law is also inconsistent with the limitations of bandwidth, tethering, and use when roaming because they only apply to activation of the “zero tariff” option. This contravenes the open internet access regulation.

Vodafone Germany and Telekom Deutschland have been contacted for comments.

Maryant Fernandez Perez from the European Consumer Protection Association BEUC, Senior Digital Policy Officer, said that the CJEU decision was a “very good news for consumers” and that it would be a positive development for all who wish to see the internet open.

Vodafone and other companies that use zero tariff rates lock in consumers, limiting what they can get from the Internet. She said that zero-rating was detrimental to consumers’ choice, innovation, and media diversity as well as freedom of information.

Publiated at Thu, 2 Sep 2021 16:42:23 (+0000).

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