The EU has struck a blow for net neutrality, whilst protecting the most vulnerable in our society
"This is for everyone" - Tim Berners Lee's promise to the world, were the words that glittered in electric brightness as they circled around the stadium during 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony. That night we celebrated a very British achievement: an open and democratic world wide web.
Last week in the European Parliament I voted to strengthen that promise, along with my fellow Labour MEPs, as we enshrined the principle of net neutrality into EU and national law.
From next year, internet surfers will have the right to access, and internet providers will be obliged to give access, to internet content "without discrimination, restriction or interference." This means when you search for something online, search engines can no longer favour paid entries over free ones; and internet providers can no longer slow your connection speed because someone else has paid for priority access.
Europe is leading the way in securing net neutrality, and provides yet another example of why we are stronger in Europe. While the USA is lagging behind as their courts strike down again and again attempts at regulating net neutrality, we are holding companies to account over their treatment of users.
The old commitment of internet providers was to make their 'best effort' to transmit all data. This had historically underpinned the internet. But the demand for traffic has accelerated and exploded over the past decade. Current broadband infrastructure cannot cope, and companies have sought to optimise their service by prioritising some data, and some users, over others.
The European Parliament, and Labour MEPs, believe that prioritising some data is against everyone’s interests and ignores the fundamental problem of long term underinvestment in internet and broadband infrastructure. So I was proud to support last week's deal on net neutrality.
It is true that this deal has been criticised by many for not going far enough, and in some areas, I agree it doesn't. But my primary concern in achieving this deal, was that the definition of net neutrality didn't become so broad and general, that it affected the work of NGOs like the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), and their South West affiliate - the Safer Internet Centre, who work to identify and take down Child Sexual Abuse Material online.
IWF works by establishing relationships with internet provider companies and asking them to voluntarily take down child abuse material when it appears on their servers. There was a real risk not recognised by some net neutrality advocates, that the deal on net neutrality could have made this working relationship impossible by requiring a court order for every takedown of child abuse material - and would have required this work to be done exclusively by government departments.
I worked closely with IWF and in the parliament to ensure they could continue to do this work - and I am proud of the deal we have achieved - which balances the rights of users in a fair and open internet, whilst ensuring the vital work of Swindon's Safer Internet Centre and IWF can continue unabated.
But despite this historic deal, I see eurosceptics can't help but spread un-truths. The Daily Mail is now claiming parental controls would be made illegal from the principle that all online traffic should be treated "without discrimination, restriction or interference."
This is not true – the UK system of parental controls through internet service providers will continue as it does today. The legislation includes provisions to specifically allow this and the government has made clear any measures needed to ensure continuity of the existing system will be in place before 31 December 2016, when the EU rules come into force.
Going forward, there are many ways we could improve this, and Labour MEPs will continue our work of securing a good deal for users. We must, however, acknowledge that the need to regulate net neutrality has arisen from chronic lack of investment in broadband infrastructure, and these new rules have been designed to manage a digital network which, if we are frank, simply cannot continue as normal.
We need a revolution in digital investment, ensuring remote communities as well as big cities are upgraded to meet the challenges of a digital world, allowing enough bandwidth to ensure the high speed, democratic internet access we all want.
I have called for this vital investment in amendments to a European Parliament report on the Digital Single Market, which will be debated next month. I look forward to updating you on my progress.