Net neutrality is crucial to the future of the web and human rights in Europe, according to World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Berners-Lee argued in a European Commission blog post that abandoning the concept of net neutrality, where internet packet data is treated equally by a network regardless of its origin, would damage the openness of the web and the innovation it facilitates.
"This openness unleashed a tidal wave of innovation, and it is still powering new breakthroughs in science, commerce, culture and much more besides," he wrote.
"Yet some companies and governments are arguing that we should depart from the principle of net neutrality.
"Until now, we've largely got along OK without explicit laws to protect net neutrality, but as the internet evolves, the situation has changed."
Berners-Lee (pictured) added that if the internet is to be maintained and enhanced as an engine for growth, companies providing access should not be able to "block, throttle or otherwise restrict legal content and services for commercial or political motivation".
He said that without net neutrality network operators would be able to block or throttle web traffic and favour particular services, eroding competition and innovation.
Furthermore, governments would be able to effectively censor the internet by restricting access to legal content.
"If we don't explicitly outlaw this, we hand immense power to telcos and online service operators," explained Berners-Lee.
"In effect, they can become gatekeepers, able to handpick the winners and the losers in the market and to favour their own sites, services and platforms over those of others."
He added that 95 percent of the countries with no net neutrality laws saw evidence of internet traffic discrimination, saying that the "temptation for companies or governments to interfere seems overwhelming".
Berners-Lee also said that net neutrality in the European Union is a "mixed bag". The Netherlands has enshrined net neutrality into law, for example, but nations including Poland and Italy have not.
"Enshrining net neutrality across the EU could raise the bar for the performance of lower ranking countries, ultimately enabling Europe to harvest the full potential of the open internet as a driver for economic growth and social progress," he concluded.
The issue of net neutrality has been much debated by Berners-Lee, who warned that the web is becoming less free and more unequal. The video below sees Berners-Lee debate the need for a 'Magna Carta' for the web.
Enshrining net neutrality in law could also muddle the technology market for major companies, particularly when BlackBerry claims that net neutrality means Apple must make apps for BlackBerry users.
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