EU Council in secret talks to introduce net discrimination

Negotiations are still going on in secret between the European Parliament, the EU Council, and the Commission about the directives of the Telecoms Package, according to campaign group La Quadrature du Net. It says "net discrimination" (its preferred term for network neutrality) is being reworked behind closed doors as part of the Universal Service directive, whose rapporteur is Malcolm Harbour (PPE/ED - UK).

It was evident the wind was blowing in this direction last week when we reported on the parliamentary Industry, TRansport, Energy (ITRE) committee meeting on the Framework Directive.

La Quadrature du Net is demanding that Parliament blocks attempts to grant operators the right to block access to content and services, and also to ‘shape’ network traffic and decide what can pass through their networks.

Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net, says, “In the latest text presented by the Council, operators may impose any limitation as long as they inform the consumer. This total freedom of providers to limit offers is particularly dangerous in markets that are prone to cartels or oligopoly. It pretends to encourage innovation and growth by restricting services in order to make consumers pay for removing those restrictions. This approach is a scam pushed by AT&T and defended by the UK network regulation authority Ofcom and the UK government.”

He adds,” Crucial questions of fundamental rights of EU citizens, including freedom of expression, information and education, cannot be reduced to market and competition problems. This is especially clear in how consumer and competition laws have failed to affect the restrictive and anti-competitive behaviour of mobile operators."

Monica Horten, a veteran telecoms journalist, currently working for her PhD on the political battle for online content in the EU, comments, “[Rapporteurs] Harbour and Trautmann are making a Faustian pact with the Council, exchanging internet users rights for an easy ride. Unless the  European Parliament flexes its muscle next week, this horrendous Package will be law by June. And the greatest irony of all is Mr Harbour – rapporteur for this ‘users rights’ directive  – complains that the users got in the way of his negotiations with industry.”

She adds, “It will suit the large telecoms companies, but smaller operators and other industries stand to lose out. Amendment 138, voted by a majority in the ITRE committee vote last week, has been altered to facilitate a quasi-legal Hadopi (the proposed French scheme forcing ISPs to police users’ behaviour on the internet and cut them off for three offences of accessing content disapproved of by the government) , in an about-face by the rapporteur Catherine Trautmann. MEP Malcolm Harbour's UK-driven amendments to permit Internet blocking by network operators are now officially part of the Telecoms Package.”