BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union member states are unlikely to support an EU-wide ban on telecoms companies offering online services such as Facebook and Spotify for free, according to a proposal by EU presidency Latvia.
EU member states are discussing net neutrality - the principle that all traffic should be treated equally - as part of efforts to agree on reform of the European telecoms sector.
So-called “zero-rating”, where operators offer unlimited access to certain online services - typically Facebook, music streaming or online television - is seen as good for competition and innovation as well as more choice for consumers.
But some consumer groups, internet activists and member states consider this to be in breach of net neutrality since it makes some services more attractive than others and operators can choose to make their own services zero-rated, thereby distorting competition.
A proposal on net neutrality by Latvia, seen by Reuters, says that an explicit ban on positive price discrimination - such as zero-rating - was unlikely to gain the support of all members.
“The issue of positive price discrimination could be left outside the scope of this instrument...this would allow each member state to decide whether to ban price discrimination at national level, or leave the assessment of such practices to general competition law,” the document says.
Supporters of zero-rating argue it is a way of giving low-income customers greater access to the Internet. For example, Wikipedia is offered for free as part of the “Wikipedia Zero” campaign in 48 countries worldwide by carriers such as Orange and Telenor.
Countries such as the Netherlands and Norway already have bans on price discrimination - meaning operators cannot offer some services outside of a customer’s data allowance - but an EU-wide ban would extend that to all 28 member states.
Leaving the choice to individual governments runs the risk of a patchwork of approaches across the EU, however, contrary to its aim to develop a single market in the telecoms sector.
Member state representatives will discuss the Latvian proposal next Tuesday, where they are expected to decide whether to include a ban or not, diplomats said.
Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by Susan Thomas