Europe leads the United States on most things when it comes to tech. Officials across the Atlantic want consumers to be able to erase all their data from a company's servers if they choose to quit a service. Pay-as-you-go cell phones there are as common as the mobile contracts that, here, prevent Americans from switching networks for two years at a time.
But there's one area in which the United States has outmaneuvered Europe, and that's net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission ruled as early as 2011 that slowing down certain types of traffic while privileging others was illegal. Internet providers complain in court that treating all traffic the same makes it harder for them to manage load efficiently at peak hours. But for most consumers, the idea that your cable company can't slowdown your movie provider comes as a relief.
Now, new rules being hashed out in the European parliament may set up something similar. Today in Brussels, the head of the EU's digital agenda commission introduced a series of principles broadly following Washington's proscription against data throttling or blockages.
"It's clear to me that many Europeans expect protection against such commercial tactics," said Neelie Kroes, the EU's top digital officer. "And that is exactly the EU safeguards we will be providing."
Where the U.S. regulations prohibit traffic discrimination, the European proposal goes one step further: It appears to make no distinction between wireless broadband—what you get on mobile devices—and wireline broadband, or what you get in your home.
That's unlike the American approach, which carved out a big exception for cell phone carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. The theory, according to an industry spokesperson, is that mobile traffic is sometimes a matter of life and death—a call to police outranks a text to friends.
Yet if Europe is somehow able to implement net neutrality rules without giving wireless carriers a pass, that'll set an important precedent for more stringent regulation here in the United States. With more Americans turning to 3G and 4G data services—and some going so far as to end their home subscriptions to broadband—the United States is going to have to revisit net neutrality for wireless carriers eventually.