Yesterday, the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee of the European Parliament voted on Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes’ Telecom Single Market proposal. The initial proposal from the European Commission included provisions that put network neutrality at risk across Europe. Access welcomes yesterday’s vote in the LIBE Committee, which addressed several of the problematic provisions and proved its commitment to protecting the internet as a platform for free expression and innovation.
The LIBE Committee adopted a definition of “specialised services” that prevent new forms of discrimination online by ensuring that such services will not lead to the creation of a two-tiered internet. LIBE rejected the original proposal by the European Commission which would enable telecommunication companies to create arbitrary tolls limiting access to internet services. In practical terms, this would create a “fast lane” for a few privileged internet services, while other content and services are left to languish in the “slow lane”. Moreover, members of the LIBE Committee blocked Internet Services Providers (ISPs) from limiting connection speeds, quality of service, as well as blocking online applications and services.
The LIBE Committee also put forward a proposal that brings greater legal clarity to users by changing the word “freedom” to “rights”. The “freedom” to choose among services would enable ISPs to offer a wide variety of confusing services that ultimately do little to protect user rights online. This minor change in wording significantly raises the level of protection for users’ rights. Last but not least, following the example of the Culture and Education Committee (CULT), LIBE introduced an excellent definition of principle of net neutrality being described as the “key driver of the unprecedented innovation and economic activity in the digital age”.
Regrettably, the text adopted by the LIBE Committee leaves two harmful loopholes in breach of the E.U. Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Treaty of the European Union. First, the proposal allows the use of traffic management measures, such as throttling, for national security purposes which are outside of the scope of competence of the European Union. Second, the proposal empowers ISPs to conduct law enforcement activities on their own initiative outside the rule of law.
Final obstacles to net neutrality in the European Parliament
Four of the five European Parliament’s Committees tasked with amending the Commission’s proposal have now voted. These four votes, meant to advise the lead Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee as it make its final decision later this month, were broadly supportive of net neutrality. However, as of now, it is unclear which direction the ITRE Committee is leaning towards in regards to defending network neutrality in Europe.
ITRE’s draft report prepared by the conservative Member of the European Parliament, Pilar del Castillo Vera, includes provisions that would empower telecommunications companies to engage in discriminatory practices online. Access, together with EDRi, provided an analysis of the ITRE draft report highlighting provisions that would undermine users’ online rights. Interestingly, the text adopted yesterday in the LIBE Committee was led by a fellow conservative party member, MEP Salvador Sedó i Alabart, who has worked constructively to put forward provisions that would guarantee an open internet across Europe.
It is clear that Ms. Del Castillo’s recommendations on the future of the open internet differ from those proposed by many other members of the European Parliament, including those of her own party. The European People’s Party, Ms. Del Castillo’s own political party, has made strong calls for the adoption of net neutrality principles into E.U. law (see here and here). It is then unclear whose interests Ms. Del Castillo is representing, the public’s or telecom’s.
The ITRE Committee will be voting on Ms. Del Castillo’s report on February 24. The situation remains critical as her current text proposed by the ITRE Committee risks undermining net neutrality and weakening internet users’ rights in Europe.
Access, together with NGOs across Europe, recently launched a campaign to provide a platform where users can learn more about the importance of net neutrality, the current ITRE proposal and most importantly, ways they can contact Members of the Parliament to voice their support of regulations that will put an end to network discrimination. This site is now available in nine languages and allows users to send a fax as well as email to MEPS. Go to savetheinternet.eu to learn more about the issue at stake and take action!