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“Zero-rating” means a commercial practice where an internet service provider applies a price of zero to the data traffic associated with a particular application or category of applications. This means that data used for the zero-rated content does not affect the consumer's remaining data allowance. The Regulation is less clear in its provisions on zero-rating, than it is on technical traffic management.

There are many types of zero-rating, which may have a different effect on the end-users' access to an open internet connection. Nevertheless, the BEREC Guidelines state clearly that instances of zero-rating where applications are blocked once the data cap has been reached while zero-rated applications can still be used, will be in violation of the traffic management rules of the Regulation.

Assessment of commercial practices

The Guidelines refer to various aspects that can be considered when assessing zero-rated offerings; including zero-rating of individual applications as opposed to categories of applications, the compliance with the objective of the Regulation to ensuring the internet continues to function as a platform for innovation, the scale of the commercial practice, and the market position of the providers.

Furthermore, it is essential that the authorities take into account the extent to which the zero-rating practice limits the end-users' choice. The authorities shall intervene if the end-users' choice is materially reduced, but may also intervene in other cases that entail limitation of the exercise of end-user's rights.

Criteria for assessment of zero-rating

In light of the above considerations, a set of criteria has been established for assessment of commercial practices such as zero-rating:

  • The market position of the internet service providers
  • The market position of the content and application providers
  • The impact on the end-users
  • The impact on content and application providers
  • The scale of the commercial practice
  • Circumvention of the aims of the Regulation