The duel between the telecoms industry and European citizens’ advocates over net neutrality as the European Parliament prepares for a decisive vote. At stake is the very principle of net neutrality – will Europe be brave anough to enshrine it in law?
At stake is the entire future of the Internet in Europe. The telecoms operators have a plan that will totally disrupt the Internet as it stands, enabling them to charge both users and content owners provision of content services. Such charging would position the telecoms operators as the gatekeepers for content, and erode the public service nature of the Internet – if they are allowed to get away with it. The outcome of tomorrow’s vote will be a determinant of what they can, or cannot, do.
The European Parliament will vote on the Telecoms Regulation (proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent). On the specific issue of net neutrality, two options will be put before the European Parliament, which meets tomorrow in full plenary session.
The Parliament will have to choose between a report that bans discrimination using traffic management, but stops short of a positive position on net neutrality; and a set of amendments that would build in a positive principle for net neutrality. It’s clear from today’s plenary debate, that there has been considerable conflict in the corridors and meeting rooms, and that this net neutrality is the issue that stands to divide the vote.
This is a first reading vote, so the outcome – whatever it is – could be challenged and overturned at a later date – but given the urgency of the scheduling to fit it in before the European elections, it is likely to be influential.
The report by rapporteur Pilar Del Castillo was voted by her committee in mid-March. Mrs Del Castillo’s report is not the same as the draft law originally put forward by the European Commission. Mrs Del Castillo has already put the knife to several of the Commission’s proposals. She also claims to have improved on certain proposals, such as the one on roaming.
On net neutrality, she has made some concessions to the citizens advocacy lobby and to a cetnre-left coalition of the European Parliament that wants to see a positive provision on net neutrality enshrined in EU law. In respect of that particularly controversial issue, she has modified the definition of ‘specialised services’ and she has strengthened the rule on traffic management. However, there are still loopholes remaining in Mrs Del Castillo’s text.
The S&D. Liberal, and Green groups, led by the 2009 Telecoms Package rapporteur Catherine Trautmann, have joined forces to produce an alternative proposal that would insert a principle of net neutrality into European law. The Trautmann proposal would be a real ‘first’ for Europe and would help to protect the Internet as we know it from incursions by the broadband providers. By default, a net neutrality principle would help to protect that very precious of fundamental rights in EU law, namely the right to freedom of expression.
On the other hand, a lobbying letter from the telecoms industry group ETNO, suggests that Mrs Del Castillo has moved in a direction not to their liking. The ETNO letter suggests that the Del Castillo report will be strongly opposed by the telecoms companies, who fabricated the plan for the Regulation in the first place, in order to spike any chances of Europe deciding to enshrine a net neutrality principle.
Much will depend on the positions taken by the EPP and ECR groups. If the net neutrality amendments are rejected, the issue then is which groups can support the report as a whole. It is entirely possible that the whole report is also rejected. That would mean that the European Commission would have to start again from scratch – and in my personal opinion, that is not necessarily a bad outcome.
This law was so badly drafted, lacking in analysis, consultation and impact assessment, (see New telecoms rules: EU Commission had no time to consult )so going back to the drawing board and doing it properly might be a good thing. There are others who will say that so many compromises were hard won, it would be good to adopt them, and try to move forward with this proposal.
The S&D/Liberal/Green amendment on net neutrality is as follows:
"net neutrality" means the principle that all internet traffic is treated equally,without discrimination, restriction orinterference, independent of its sender,receiver, type, content, device, service orapplication;"
Article (14) amended
"internet access service" means a publicly available electronic communications service that provides connectivity to the internet in accordance with the principle of net neutrality, and thereby connectivity between virtually all end points of the internet, irrespective of the network technologies or terminal equipment used
Supported by an amendment to Recital 49:
"The principle of "net neutrality" means that traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of the sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application."
La Quadrature du Net are urging concerned citizens who would like the European Parliament to protect the open Internet, to contact their MEP. In particular, anyone doing this should express support for the S&D/Greens amendement tabled by Catherine Trautmann. La Quadrature du Net have created a special website savetheinternet.eu with all the information on it.
For my previous coverage of the Telecoms Regulation (Connected Continent) see all of my postings under the 'Net Neutrality' menu heading. They include EU telecoms rules - smokescreen lifts over telco specialised services and Permission to stream – how new EU telecoms rules violate net neutrality ).
To understand the political context to the Telecoms regulation (Connected Continent) , see my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma - Internet Politics and the ‘Telecoms Package’ which discusses the 2009 Telecoms Package and the processing of it by the European Parliament.
If you are more interested in how the lobbying operates in the European Parliament, then you may also like my other book A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms
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, EU Parliament net neutrality fight comes to a head in plenary vote , in Iptegrity.com 2 April 2014. Commercial users - please contact me.
Tags: EU Telecoms Regulation, EU, European Commission, European Parliament, Connected Continent, net neutrality, Pilar del Castillo, ITRE, Telecoms Package, telecoms reform package.