AMSTERDAM (AP) — The European Parliament voted Thursday to stop Internet providers from charging for preferential access to their networks — a step cheered by consumer groups and startups but bemoaned by the telecommunications industry.
The bill on "net neutrality" forces Internet providers to treat all traffic the same regardless of its source. That will prevent major telecom and Internet providers such as Vodafone or Deutsche Telekom from reserving the best of their network for their own services, or selling the lions' share of bandwidth to big companies like Google and Netflix, while leaving a slower Internet for everyone else.
European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, who proposed the bill, hailed Thursday's 534-25 vote as "historic." She said it will help "to get rid of barriers and to make life less expensive" for consumers.
Small companies, consumer groups and online freedom activists cheered Thursday's vote.
"The beauty of this is that everybody with a laptop and an Internet connection can conquer the world," said Wienke Giezeman of the Amsterdam startup WappZapp, which offers a personalized video service.
But large European telecommunications companies protested, warning of dire consequences if net neutrality is enacted in all European countries. So far, only the Netherlands and Slovakia have adopted strong national net neutrality legislation. The telecoms companies say they are increasingly operating at a disadvantage to their counterparts in the United States, where a similar law was shot down this year.
"Europe's telecoms operators are facing decreasing revenues ... compared with operators in the U.S. and Asia," said the GSM Association, an industry group for mobile phone companies.
To become law, the bill must be approval by EU leaders, likely at a meeting in October, and a flurry of lobbying is expected before then.
"Europe's big telcos will not take this Parliament vote laying down and will now bring out the big guns," said John Phelan of the European consumer rights organization BEUC.