EU net neutrality robs telcos of teeth by outlawing ad-blocking

5 Sep 2016

In a blow for telecoms operators it has emerged that new EU net neutrality legislation outlaws network-wide ad blocking

Just as Europe-based telcos were about to turn the screws on the internet giants making vast revenues off the networks they built, it has emerged that new EU net neutrality legislation outlaws network-wide ad blocking.

Guidelines recently published by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communication (BEREC) advise local telecoms regulators that, although consumers can install ad blocking apps on their phones, network-level ad blocking should be prohibited.

“Operators should not block, slow down, alter, restrict, interfere with, degrade or discriminate advertising when providing an IAS (internet access service),” BEREC said.

Future Human

The news is likely to be met with dismay by fixed and mobile telecoms networks who feel that they are being taken advantage of by internet giants.

On the one hand, net neutrality has been welcomed by many in Europe because it prevents a two-tier internet emerging, whereby services could be throttled unless providers pay higher sums to telcos, which in turn would mean higher prices for consumers.

But, on the other hand, telcos who have invested billions of euros in networks only to see internet giants like Facebook and Google build services for free on top of them are viewing ad-blocking as a chance of recouping lost revenues by overlaying their ads instead.

Services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are effectively replacing SMS, killing a vital revenue line for mobile operators.

The great telecoms fightback has been stalled in Europe

In response, operators are thinking creatively. Three recently signed a deal with Israel-based tech firm Shine to block ads from appearing on mobile devices on its networks in the UK and Italy with a “rapid rollout” to follow in its operations across Europe.

Last year, we reported that Denis O’Brien’s mobile operator in the Caribbean, Digicel, is also partnering with Shine to block advertising from Facebook and Google on its network.

Recently, Facebook fought back by releasing its own anti-ad-blocking technology.

Ad blocking is not only a threat to the internet giants, but the wider internet industry and online publishing as a whole.

According to a study by Irish-based start-up PageFair, some $21.8bn in advertising revenues was lost in 2015 due to ad-blocking.

Ad blocking image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years