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The European Parliament has voted to end mobile broadband roaming charges by the end of next year and to begin treating all internet traffic as equal.

EU member states will have to vote on the proposed legislation before a final agreement is published by the end of 2014, but a key aspect of the legislation will be to introduce a clear and specific reference for the principle of net neutrality and what it means.

Previous drafts contained a number of grey areas that were the subject of criticism from content providers and online businesses, who said it would largely be left up to broadband providers to decide what content people could and could not access by restricting traffic.

One fear was that certain online content providers could find their traffic significantly throttled unless they agreed to pay a fee to the ISP, which would on one hand ensure that broadband customers benefited from low costs, but would also have a knock-on effect on the services offered by thousands of online organisations.

However, the proposed new legislation defines net neutrality to mean that traffic should be treated equally, "without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of the sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application".

The European Parliament has previously recognised the internet as a key driver of competitiveness, economic growth, social development and innovation - and thus it says the new legislation will seek to recognise its importance as an "accelerator in the free circulation of knowledge, ideas and information, including in countries where access to independent media is limited".

The positive definition of net neutrality has been welcomed by many industry bodies, with Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, saying he now hopes that the UK government follows suit.

He added: "The Regulation means that, for the first time, net neutrality is properly defined and protected in law, making sure that all internet traffic is treated equally."

The legislation also includes various provisions for easier migration between broadband providers and clearer advertising, including a right to terminate any contract after six months without penalty with a one-month notice period, and a requirement for broadband providers to offer an email forwarding facility when users switch ISP, making the broadband switching process easier for all.

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