European communications policy is defined as European level coordination of national policies by institutions such as the European Union (EU), Council of Europe (CoE), European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO). The focus in this article is on European Union initiatives that are, in general, directly binding on Member States. They comprise of policies governing cross-border broadcasting (television and radio), telecommunications relating to media, content distribution (networks and subsidies), public service definitions, advertising and quotas. The focus is on current policies, with historical accounts of how they came into being. It draws on primary source material and provides secondary reading suggestions under the section Further Reading. A distinction is made between hard law, which is directly binding, and soft policy coordination, which takes place between the European Union institutions and national regulatory authorities (NRAs). The policy areas under discussion are: cross-border broadcasting (television and radio), telecommunications relating to media, distribution (networks and subsidies), public service definitions, advertising and quotas. European Union initiatives are comprised of four main components: legislation (Directives, Regulations, and Decisions), soft governance (self-regulation and other forms of European level coordination), competition law and distributive policies (the MEDIA programme and Creative Europe). Directives, regulations, decisions and competition case rulings are directly binding on member states. Soft policy coordination takes place between the European institutions and national regulatory authorities (NRAs). It is used primarily to coordinate standard-setting between NRAs and establish common EU positions on international platforms. It has also been instrumental in setting benchmarking exercises and the exchange of best practice in areas where there is no EU legal basis for legislation such as media transparency, freedom, pluralism and independence.
Internet neutrality—usually net(work) neutrality—encompasses the idea that all data packets that circulate on the Internet should be treated equally, without discriminating between users, types of content, platforms, sites, applications, equipment, or modes of communication. The debate about this normative principle revolves around the Internet as a set of distribution channels and how and by whom these channels can be used to control communication. The controversy was spurred by advancements in technology, the increased usage of bandwidth-intensive services, and changing economic interests of Internet service providers. Internet service providers are not only important technical but also central economic actors in the management of the Internet’s architecture. They seek to increase revenue, to recover sizable infrastructure upgrades, and expand their business model. This has consequences for the net neutrality principle, for individual users and corporate content providers. In the case of Internet service providers becoming content providers themselves, net neutrality proponents fear that providers may exclude competitor content, distribute it poorly and more slowly, and require competitors to pay for using high-speed networks. Net neutrality is not only a debate on infrastructure business models that is carried out in economic expert circles. On the contrary, and despite its technical character, it has become an issue in the public debate and an issue that is framed not only in economic but also in political and social terms. The main dividing line in the debate is whether net neutrality regulation is necessary or not and what scope net neutrality obligations should have. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States passed new net neutrality rules in 2015 and strengthened its legal underpinning regarding the regulation of Internet service providers (ISPs). With the Telecoms Single Market Regulation, for the first time there will be a European Union–wide legislation for net neutrality, but not recent dilution of requirements. From a communication studies perspective, Internet neutrality is an issue because it relates to a number of topics addressed in communication research, including communication rights, diversity of media ownership, media distribution, user control, and consumer protection. The connection between legal and economic bodies of research, dominating net neutrality literature, and communication studies is largely underexplored. The study of net neutrality would benefit from such a linkage.