Netherlands First European Country to Make Net Neutrality Law, Although With an Accidental Flaw

By: Simon Columbus on 22 June 2011

With a vote this Tuesday, the Dutch Parliament has become the second in the world to introduce the principles of net neutrality into law. A mistake by the Labour Party (PvdA), however, means that the bill includes an unintended loophole.

The bill, which still has to be approved by the Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer) before entering into force, was passed with near unanimous support. It will prohibit ISPs from discriminating against Internet traffic based on content, although measures against congestion and to improve network security are allowed if they are in the interest of the users.

A minor flaw (in Dutch) was introduced at the last minute due to a mistake by the Labour Party, which voted in favor of an amendment brought forward by the small, ultra-Christian party SGP. They had introduced a proposal (in Dutch) which would allow for filtering for ideological reasons - if the subscriber wishes so:

”tegemoet te komen aan een uitdrukkelijk verzoek van de abonnee om diensten of toepassingen op grond van door de abonnee gespecificeerde ideologische motieven te belemmeren, mits de aanbieder de abonnee voor deze toestemming geen geldelijk of ander voordeel biedt.”

“[ISPs don’t block traffic, except] in response to an explicit request from the subscriber to block services or applications on the base of ideological motives specified by the subscriber, if the provider does not offer to the subscriber any monetary or other advantage for this.”

In their reasoning, the SGP argued that this clause would give end users the freedom to choose an offer for network access on which certain content (“pornography, violence, and drugs”) would be blocked. The clause clearly does not mean - as had been reported on Slashdot - that the Parliament voted “for filtering”, but critics have pointed out it might be misused by providers to block content for economic reasons.

Although it is not clear why the PvdA voted for the SGP proposal (which was also supported, as expected, by Liberal Democracts, Christian Democrats, and Socialists), the party has expressed their intent to revert their accidental approval. A member announced that another amendment next week would "fix" the issue before the Senate has to give its approval.

Civil society organizations have welcomed the law, despite the last-minute mistake. Bits of Freedom has also published an English translation of the bill, with the exception of the accidental amendment. Together with their French colleagues from La Quadrature du Net, the group also called on other European countries to follow the Netherlands’ example.