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Net neutrality overhaul: 5G, zero-rating, parental control, DPI

October 20, 2019 In Design News,Digital Freedom

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) is
currently in the process of overhauling their guidelines on the
implementation of the Regulation (EU) 2015/2120, which forms the legal
basis of the EU’s net neutrality rules. At its most recent plenary,
BEREC produced new draft guidelines and opened a public consultation on
this draft. The proposed changes to the guidelines seem like a mixed bag.

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5G network slicing

The new mobile network standard 5G specifies the ability of network
operators to provide multiple virtual networks (“slices”) with different
quality characteristics over the same network infrastructure, called
“network slicing”. Because end-user equipment can be connected to
multiple slices at the same time, providers could use the introduction
of 5G to create new products where different applications make use of
different slices with their associated quality levels. In its draft
guidelines, BEREC clarifies that it?s the user who has to be able to
choose which application makes use of which slice. This is a welcome


Zero-rating is a practice of billing the traffic used by different
applications differently, and in particular not deducting the traffic
created by certain applications from a user’s available data volume.
This pratice has been criticised, because it reduces the choice of
consumers regarding which applications they can use, and disadvantages
new, small application providers against the big, already established
players. These offers broadly come in two types: “open” zero-rating
offers, where application providers can apply to become part of the
programme and have their application zero-rated, and “closed” offers
where that is not the case. The draft outlines specific criteria
according to which open offers can be assessed.

Parental control filters

While content- and application-specific pricing is an additional
challenge for small content and application providers, content-specific
blocking can create even greater problems. Nevertheless, the draft
contains new language that creates a carve-out for products such as
parental control filters operated by the access provider from the
provisions of the Regulation that prohibit such blocking, instead
subjecting them to a case-by-case assessment by the regulators (as is
the case for zero-rating). The language does not clearly exclude filters
that are sold in conjunction with the access product and are on by
default, and the rules can even be read as to require users who do not
want to be subjected to the filtering to manually reconfigure each of
their devices.

Deep Packet Inspection

Additionally, BEREC is also running a consultation on two paragraphs in
the guidelines to which it hasn?t yet proposed any changes. These
paragraphs establish important privacy protections for end-users. They
prohibit access providers from using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) when
applying traffic management measures in their network and thus protect
users from having the content of their communications inspected.
However, according to statements made during the debriefing session of
the latest BEREC plenary, some actors want to allow providers to look at
domain names, which themselves can reveal very sensitive information
about the user and require DPI to extract from the data stream.

EDRi member will respond to BEREC’s consultation and
encourages other stakeholders to participate. The proposed changes are
significant. That is why clearer language is required, and users?
privacy needs to remain protected. The consultation period ends on 28
November 2019.

Public consultation on the document on BEREC Guidelines on the
Implementation of the Open Internet Regulation (10.10.2019)

Zero rating: Why it is dangerous for our rights and freedoms (22.06.2016)

NGOs and academics warn against Deep Packet Inspection (15.05.2019)

Net Neutrality vs. 5G: What to expect from the upcoming EU review?

(Contribution by Benedikt Gollatz, EDRi member, Austria)