T-Mobile Netherlands wins "breakthrough" net neutrality ruling

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

A Dutch court upheld T-Mobile's appeal against a ban on its zero-rated music service Datavrije Muziek

Deutsche Telekom’s Dutch operation has been given permission to continue a free music package, after it won a net neutrality dispute in a court in Rotterdam.

The Dutch Authority for Consumer and Market had ordered T-Mobile Netherlands to suspend its Datavrije Muziek service in December, claiming it was in breach of Dutch net neutrality laws because it was detrimental to competition with internet services. 

The DCM threatened to impose a fine of €50,000 per day until the operator closed the service if it failed to meet a 20-day deadline, however T-Mobile took the case to the courts. It claimed T-Mobile’s offer was not in line with an amendment made to 2012’s Telecommunications Act, which introduced a complete ban on zero rating.

The Court of Rotterdam backed T-Mobile, saying the zero rating service is allowed by European rules on net neutrality, even laws in the Netherlands prohibit it. The court said the European rules superseded those of at a state level.

The decision was hailed as a “breakthrough in the Netherlands and in Europe” by T-Mobile CEO Soren Abildgaard, according to NU.nl. Abildgaard, who joined from Telia Company in January, claimed the ruling will give clarity to authorities and telcos on how to deal with zero rating in the country.

He added: “Last October, we took a big and bold step to reach a new and very innovative service, against the prevailing belief in the established order, Datavrije Muziek. We firmly believed that this is in the interests of our customers.”

Net neutrality – the issue of making all internet services equal - has been a topic of much debate within the telecoms community. In the US, regulators initially introduced strict rules to uphold the values of net neutrality, leading to several lawsuits from operators including AT&T and Verizon. FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who took the reins in January, has since rode back from this position.

In Europe, the Burea of European Regulations for Electronic Communications (BEREC) unveiled guidelines for regulators last year which allowed for some forms of zero rating. The implementation of these guidelines is still being tested, but the Dutch court’s ruling could serve as an example in other jurisdictions.