EU Telecoms Proposals Stir Fierce Debate

safe harbour

The draft text could mean better broadband infrastructure, while clamping down on online copyright and encrypted communications

The European Commission introduced wide-ranging proposed telecommunications and copyright reforms, including measures that could give telecoms companies and publishers more weight when competing with Internet giants.

EC president Jean-Claude Juncker described the rules as a win for users of technology and for people who create and publish materials that are used online, saying the new rules should lead to better digital infrastructure and fairer compensation.

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Free Wi-Fi

“We propose today to equip every European village and every city with free wireless Internet access,” he said at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, without giving details on how such a plan could proceed.

Industry observers said the EC is seeking to prove that its directives provide concrete benefits for citizens at a time of euroscepticism following the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

The rules would encourage telecommunications companies to invest in digital infrastructure by allowing more co-investment and extending spectrum licences to at least 25 years.

They would also limit the cases in which incumbent operators must provide competitors with access to their infrastructure.

More investment could mean faster broadband services for consumers, although consumer rights group BEUC said the proposals could mean less competition and wouldn’t help reduce “unjustifiably high” call prices.

Digital calling services such as Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook’s WhatsApp could be made to abide by some of the same wiretapping and security rules that restrict telecommunications companies under the proposals.

That could mean, for instance, that services could be restricted from providing end-to-end encryption and obliged to provide surveillance access to law-enforcement authorities in the same way that telephone companies currently are.


Copyright reforms would force Internet firms such as Google to pay for snippets of content they display on their services, something intended to benefit publishers.

Google criticised the measure, as did campaign group European Digital Rights, which said it would force web hosting companies to filter online content to avoid falling foul of copyright law.

“It could not conceivably be worse,” stated EDRi executive director Joe McNamee.

Media licensing rights and musicians’ rights groups said the proposals do not go far enough in ensuring compensation for producers of film, television, multimedia and music content.

“What we need is a right for all performers to be paid each time a performance is used online on iTunes, Netflix or Spotify,” stated Benoît Machuel, general secretary of the International Federation of Musicians.

The draft rules are expected to be fiercely contested before they can become law, and may be substantially altered from their current form.

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