The EU telecoms package has finally been approved, following repeated delays due to the net cut-off row. Now governments need to focus on setting up a Europe-wide telecoms regulator in 2010
The European Parliament has finally approved by 510 votes to 40 a package of reforms of the telecoms industry, which will include the creation of a Europe-wide telecoms regulator Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and other consumer and business protection measures, including the right to be informed about data breaches at telecoms operators.
But 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.
The next stage for the telecoms reform package will be the signing of the legislation by the presidents of the European Parliament and Council on 25 November followed by the formal introduction of the measures on 18th December. Member states then have until June 2011 to integrate the new rules into their own national legislation.
“The EU telecoms reform will bring more competition on Europe’s telecoms markets, better and cheaper fixed, mobile and internet services and faster internet connections for all Europeans. Thanks to the strong support of the European Parliament today, Europe has put citizens in the centre stage in telecoms regulation”, said Viviane Reding, the EU’s Telecoms Commissioner.
Reding added that the creation of the new EU-wide telecoms regulator would also help to tackle some of the blockages to cross-border e-commerce and communications which the EC has committed to combat. “The establishment of the new European Telecoms Body BEREC, the institutional set-up of which has been substantially designed by European Parliamentarians, 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. “A true single market for Europe’s telecoms operators and consumers is now within reach.”
The European Body of Telecoms Regulators BEREC is due to be created by spring 2010 according to the time-line laid out by the EC.
In a separate statement, the European parliament address 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 earlier this month.
Governments in France and the UK – championed by business secretary Lord Mandelson – have been pushing hard with plans to cut-off the internet access of file-sharers. The UK government’s strategy will consist of sending letters to illegal downloaders and passing their details on to media companies, which have the option of launching their own legal actions. The second phase, which will be introduced a year after the legislation comes into force, could involve a number of technical measures including slowing down the connection speed of offenders or temporarily suspending their connections.
The UK government’s policy is enshrined in the Digital Economy Bill, published earlier this month, which, obliges ISPs to impose an escalating series of sanctions on any customer suspected of persistently downloading copyright material, which can include slowing down their internet connection and temporarily cutting them off from the internet.