Should someone tell the Commissioner for Information Society what is really inside the Telecoms Package? According to a report in a German newspaper, she is under the impression that it will deal with operators who block access to services.
In an article in the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt, EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, is reported as saying that national regulatory authorities should take action against network operators taking advantage of their own market dominance to block new, innovative services. She was commenting on the news that T-Mobile is blocking Skype on iPhones and Blackberrys. Her threat is apparently that T-Mobile could be in breach of EU competition law.
However, Mrs Reding cannot be up to speed on developments in the Telecoms Package - this is a revision to EU telecoms law and the current draft will legally permit operators to
do exactly what T-Mobile is doing to Skype today. And more...
The Handelsblatt article implies (incorrectly) that the Telecoms Package will 'smooth the way' for services such as Skype, suggesting that the Telecoms Package will sort out operators who do this kind of blocking. However, it also quotes someone in Brussels, presumably a Commission spokesman, saying that the text of the Telecoms Package is „nicht so eindeutig, wie wir uns das wünschen." (not so clear as we would like).
If Mrs Reding had read the Telecoms Package recently, she would see that throughout the text, it specifies the ‘conditions limiting access to and use of services and applications'. This text effectively gives operators - T-Mobile included - the legal permission to block services and applications, or restrict the use of them, at their discretion. All they have to do is tell the subscriber in the small print of the contract. They will not have to tell the regulator, although the regulator may choose to make it a condition of operation that he can ‘verify' what they are blocking. Under the current draft of the Telecoms Package, the regulator has no further powers to deal with blocking situations.
And users will have no rights to do anything about it. The only thing they may do, is to switch operator, which is likely to cause them inconvenience. If all operators block, they will have no real choice - just a choice between different blocking options, and no way of making a comparison.
The Telecoms Package relies - as Mrs Reding is doing - on competition law. The critical text here is 'a competitive market will...'. However, competition law is not able to address blocking of content, services or applications by network operators. According to the advice that I have received, relying on competition law to deal with operators who 'limit' - or block - users acces to services and applications, is equivalent to doing nothing at all. Users will have no protection.
Mrs Reding's threat of competition law, is, it seems, an empty threat. No wonder T-Mobile isn't scared.
Should someone tell her what it really says?
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2009), Look again Mrs Reding: limitations mean blocking, iptegrity.com,15 April 2009.