A bag of tricks postpones the E.U. vote on net neutrality

Earlier this week the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee of the European Parliament was scheduled to vote on the European Telecoms Single Market proposal, legislation critical to determining the future of network neutrality in Europe.  But instead of voting on Monday, the Committee decided to postpone the vote — because of a problem with plastic bags.

Since the proposal was first tabled by Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes in September 2013, four different committees have reviewed and debated the original text. The ITRE vote is the final committee vote before the full Parliament takes up the legislation, and will be instrumental in determining that outcome.

But instead of voting on Monday the ITRE committee decided to postpone the vote until March 18th. Why? Because legislation on an unrelated vote on plastic bags hadn’t been fully translated into all the European languages, which prompted a similar discussion on the telecoms proposal. Hours of circular debate resulted in delaying both votes until proper translation was made available (you can watch the full spectacle here.) This delay tactic is indicative of the split opinions within the committee on the proposed language, and the lack of leadership from Pilar del Castillo, a conservative member of the European Parliament (MEP) leading the telecoms file for the ITRE Committee.

But while the delay is an embarrassment, it’s not bad news. It allows time for del Castillo to improve the ITRE proposal before the rescheduled vote in March. ITRE members must address a major loophole: the definition of the so-called “specialised services.”

Currently, if the committee adopts Del Castillo’s report without changes, ISPs could make special agreements for faster service with a few content providers, at the expense of all other online services. This scenario would benefit online monopolies while stifling innovation, competition, and freedom of communication online.

Members of the ITRE committee should support the alternative amendments put forward by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D). While the S&D alternate text is not perfect, it does provide needed legal clarity and closes several loopholes in Del Castillo’s original proposal. Access and EDRi have gone line by line through the amendments, to develop a comparative analysis of both texts.

After several promises to guarantee net neutrality in Europe, it is now clear that Commissioner Kroes has changed her mind: The European Commission has pretended to support net neutrality while at the same time thoroughly undermining it (see further analysis in post from EDRi here). Over the past five years, the European Parliament repeatedly called for net neutrality to be enshrined in EU Law (here and here), including in a report released by conservatives last year. The European Parliament has an opportunity to protect net neutrality: It should seize it and not fall for the European Commission’s antics.

Next steps


The ITRE vote is now rescheduled for March 18th, giving the European Parliament the opportunity to protect internet users’ rights by enshrining net neutrality into E.U. law. But this requires keeping the pressure on the ITRE members: They need to know that Europeans will not allow internet discrimination to become the law of the land.

Access, together with a network of NGOs across Europe, has launched savetheinternet.eu to keep that pressure on. There, people can learn more about the importance of net neutrality, the current ITRE proposal, and directly contact MEPs to voice their objection to Ms. Del Castillo’s harmful proposal. This site is available in nine languages and allows users call, email, or fax MEPs (free of charge).

Stay tuned for updates and how you can help save the internet in the E.U.!