Microsoft, Google, Intel and Skype have called on the EU to halt the damaging Telecoms Package proposals which would limit Internet access and legally permit operators to block applications such as Skype. They want the EU to write in to the new law a guarantee of open access to all content, services and applications.
Microsoft has joined forces with its arch rival Google, as well as the powerful component-maker Intel and Internet voice service suppliers such as Skype, in opposing EU plans which limit Internet access. The plans are set out in the latest draft of the Telecoms Package, which will legally permit broadband operators to block services at their discretion. Microsoft and Google and their partners call on European politicians and decision-makers to change the draft law before it is too late. They demand that the law should instead give Internet users a guarantee of open access.
In a statement, they say: "On Tuesday, the European Parliament voted on part of the Telecoms Package, one of the cornerstones in the Regulation of the Electronic Communications Sector. Many provisions adopted by the Committee leading on Universal service open the door to the blocking or degrading of content, services or applications by access operators for motives that extend beyond efficient traffic management."
They argue that the so-called transparency proposals in the Telecoms Package are insufficient safeguards for users against blocking practices by network operators. They cite as an example, the recent decision by T-Mobile to blockSkype. The reason given by T-Mobile is "efficient management" of its network, but its opponents say the move is anti-competivitve and reduces choice for users.
Google and Microsoft, and their partners in the VON coalition, (see below) call on the EU to give users a guarantee of open access: "The European institutions have a unique opportunity to solve this problem in a timely manner by enshrining a set of principles in the Electronic communications framework to prohibit such behaviour, and going beyond mere statements on informing consumers of limitations"
For background: The Telecoms Package proposals suggest that so long as a network operator or broadband provider includes the information somewhere in its small print of the terms and conditions, it is legally permissible for them to block, or limit access to services and applications. The network operators argue that they need to have a free rein to carry out "reasonable network management" and some of them have lobbied hard for the law to include the 'limitations' clauses. Under the current proposals, they will not be obligated to account for their actions to the public or to a regulator.
Although the regulator may ask for disclosure, it is not stated what the regulator should ask for, or what the powers would be to deal with such a situation. The rules will be different in each EU country. This means there will not be a harmonised market across Europe - which was the stated aim of the telecoms law review.
The law as it is currently drafted, leaves it to competition law, which means that only large companies will have the economic muscle to challenge decisions made by operators, and they could languish in the courts for years before they are resolved. Citizens will have no rights to challenge blocking decisions by operators.
The IT companies have formed a new industry initiative called the Voice on the Net (VON) coalition. Its members, other than Microsoft and Google, are Intel, Skype, Rebtel, iBasis, and Voxbone. Intel, Google and Skype have been opposed to the Telecoms Package proposals since last June, when it became evident that they included proposals to block access, whether to support copyright enforcement or for other reasons.
This is the full statement from the VON coalition
Reuters has also reported the call on the EU to guarantee open Internet access.