EU Breaks Down National Boundaries With Telecoms Rules

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Borders no longer count when it comes to providing telecoms services across Europe says the European Union, with new rules covering broadband provision and file-sharing

European Union telecoms rules delayed by disagreements over the rights of member states to cut off file-sharers from the Internet have come into force, with plans to create a European telecoms regulator to be put in place early next year.

In a statement released this week, the EU announced the new telecoms rules have been published in the Official Journal of the European Union and are now officially EU Law. As well as controversial measures on how member states should tackle the issue of illegal file-sharing, the rules also look to break down national barriers when it comes to provision of communication services such as broadband.

Composed of the Better Regulation Directive and the Citizen’s Rights Directive, the telecoms rules will also see the establishment of a European telecoms regulator known as the “Body of European Regulators For Electronic Communications (BEREC).

EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding said that the new regulator is a clear sign that communication services should be delivered across the whole of Europe – regardless of national borders. “The establishment of the new European Telecoms Authority BEREC is a very visible sign that we are serious when we say that Europe’s telecoms operators and consumers should no longer feel national borders in network access and the delivery of communication services,” she said.

Reding added that the introduction of the telecoms rules into EU law should motivate member states to adopt the regulations. “Now that the reform Directives have been published in the Official Journal, I ask Member States to start work on the swift transposition of these rules into national laws. A rapid and correct transposition will be crucial for achieving legal certainty, enhancing competition and stimulating investment in Europe’s evolving single telecoms market,” she said.

Although the new rules will provide improved protection for consumers, they have been criticised in some circles for not going far enough over the issue of users having their Internet connection cut-off – a remedy that has already been proposed by governments in France and UK.

Experts had hoped that the EU would force governments to seek the intervention of a judicial body in any Internet-termination cases but that clause – known as Amendment 138 – was eventually removed after holding up the introduction of the whole telecoms package.

In November, the European parliament addressed the issue of Amendment 138 specifically and indicated that it had gone as far as it could to protect consumers who face having their Internet access terminated. “MEPs thus succeeded in affording Internet access an equivalent legal protection to that of a fundamental right by adding the world’s first “Internet freedom provision” to the EU framework law for electronic communications networks and services,” the Parliament stated. “Member States will have to adapt their national legislation to comply with these safeguards by 24 May 2011.”

However the rules do not go as far as some consumer rights proponents would have liked. “The agreed text does not meet the challenge of clearly preserving a fundamental right of access to the net. Threats to Internet freedom still loom, with the intense lobbying of the entertainment industries to push the ACTA treaty, which endangers net neutrality and seeks to impose the liability of the technical intermediaries,” said Jérémie Zimmemrmann, co-founder of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net in October.


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