***Newflash - despite Vivane Reding's stinging rebuke, the Commission has tonight approved the new telecoms rules . And most recent leak indicates the proposal remains negative for users. ***
Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, did not mince her words when she launched a stinging attack on her old DG over proposals for the economically-powerful telecoms industry. Mrs Reding – who knows what she is talking about as she led the 2009 Telecoms Package – said that the right to freedom of expression is put at risk by the draft Telecoms Regulation. Mrs Reding’s comments come as a sharp rebuke to her long- term colleague and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes.
Mrs Reding’s attack on Mrs Kroes came in a leaked memo addressed to the director general of DG Cnect, (no, it’s not spelled wrong, that’s what they really call it). He is Robert Madelin, who tweets as Euro-Humph, a reference to the obsequious civil servant Sir Humphrey in the British comedy show ‘Yes Minister’.
The memo was revealed this week by European Digital Rights (Edri). It was signed by Mrs Reding’s director general, Francoise LeBail, who is sometimes referred to as the ‘dark-haired Catherine Deneuve’ due to her impeccable appearance. But she is also known to be tough, and has been in the Commission for many years.
Mrs Reding’s note expressed: “concerns that ISPs could misuse their possibility to offer ‘general service characteristics’ to end users by applying discriminatory traffic management contrary to the net neutrality principle’.
She said that the new telecoms proposals would ‘Entitle content providers to negotiate priority treatment of their own content over the Internet’ and ‘If not properly ring-fenced the unlimited contractual freedom of content providers will lead to unintended anti-competitive and discriminatory practices’
And Mrs Reding concluded ‘Such provisions risk having a negative impact on consumers freedom of expression’.
Mrs Reding’s note concurs with other analysis of the Telecoms Regulation by La Quadrature du Net and by Edri.
The proposal is formally known as the Regulation laying down measures to complete the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent. This is a key piece of legislation for the Internet and it is vital that we understand exactly what it means for users. In summary, the European Commission has expanded on Articles 20 and 21 in the current Directive 2009/136/EC which deal with user contracts and transparency (see my book for the history of this directive). This new Regulation is therefore a ‘Telecoms Package MkII’.
There is more than one draft that has leaked and they all have some variations on the wording, however, the general intention does seem to be that the European Commission has given in to industry demands to be able to prioritise content and charge for it.
The incendiary text in the draft Regulation is as follows:
providers of content, applications and services and providers of electronic communications to the public shall be free to enter into agreements with each other on the treatment of the related data volumes or on the transmission of traffic within a defined quality of service
This text means that Internet service providers would be allowed to to priority deals with content providers, an interpretation confirmed by Mrs Reding's memo. Ultimately, it would lead to closing down of the Internet, as only large content providers would be able to afford to do deals offering general accessibility.
In addition, there is other text allowing providers to vary the quality of service which gives them scope to vary it in such a way as to, for example, have the effect of blocking competitive content services. Mrs Reding's note considers that this text runs contrary to the principle of net neutrality.
Viviane Reding knows better than anyone what happens when the Commission tries to tamper with certain crucial principles of the Internet. Mrs Reding was stung by giving in to copyright industry lobbying and has since come to regret it (the full account is in my book).
The Telecoms Regulation was on the agenda of the meeting of European Commissioners today and has been approved.
A recent version seen by Iptegrity, (which is different from the drafts I've seen circulating) indicates that Mr Madelin and his team have taken on board some of the criticisms from other DG's and re-worked some of the provisions. The parts of the text that affect net neutrality have been re-written, but it does not seem to me that the substance has been significantly altered.
If this Telecoms Package MkII goes ahead, it will be one more nail in the coffin for the Internet as we know it. On that basis, Mrs Kroes and Euro-Humph can look forward to some stressful months ahead.
For an account of how Viviane Reding was stung by copyright lobbyists in the 2009 Telecoms Package see The Copyright Enforcement Enigma Internet Politics and the Telecoms Package.
This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, Reding tackles Kroes: new EU telecoms law puts free speech at risk, 9 September 2013. Commercial users - please contact me.