Industry bodies slam EU vote to abolish roaming charges, protect net neutrality

Leading industry bodies say a European parliamentary vote on the latest version of the telecoms single market package is a "step in the wrong direction", claiming that the move "risks derailing the original objectives of the Connected Continent Regulation".

Neelie Kroes - EC vice president

The European Parliament this week voted to abolish roaming charges by Christmas 2015 and introduce new rules on net neutrality that would prevent telecoms operators from prioritising some Internet traffic over others.

Neelie Kroes, the European Commission vice president in charge of the Digital Agenda, immediately welcomed the outcome of the vote. Kroes is one of the strongest advocates of plans to end roaming charges and create a more open telecoms market in the European Union that breaks down national borders.

"Beyond the highly visible barrier of roaming we are now close to removing many other barriers so Europeans can enjoy open, seamless communications wherever they are," Kroes said.

However, the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) and the GSM Association (GSMA) immediately expressed concern that Europe has now moved away from the original objectives in the Connected Continent Regulation to "tap all sources of growth to exit the crisis, create jobs and regain its competitiveness".

ETNO chairman, Luigi Gambardella, said the vote "risks derailing the original objectives of the Connected Continent Regulation, namely a strong European digital industry igniting growth and jobs creation."

Gambradella added: "We are confident that the upcoming work of the EU decision makers will acknowledge such risk and will embrace the spirit of the Commission's original proposal, confirming that the EU seeks solutions for growth, and not populist measures."

The GSMA also said it believes that the overall package fails to address the key challenge of stimulating growth and investment.

The responses by ETNO and GSMA come as little surprise: the two bodies together with the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA) and Cable Europe issued a joint statement ahead of the vote in which they expressed their concerns about the prospect of draft legislation on net neutrality being passed by the European Parliament during the vote.

In fact, the proposals for net neutrality, or the Open Internet, have gone even further than was originally feared by operators: while the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said Internet access providers would still be able to offer specialised services of higher quality, such as video on demand and business-critical cloud services, they said that these services should not be supplied to "the detriment of the availability or quality of Internet access services" offered to other companies or service suppliers.

Matthew Howett, head of Ovum's telecom regulation practice, said the issue of net neutrality is now at the centre of the European Commission's telecoms reforms.

"Telcos fear that they won't be able to invest to meet future bandwidth demands unless they are able to better monetise the access they offer," Howett said. "On the other side of the coin, Internet companies fear that start-ups, consumers and innovation will suffer if there is a further movement away from the current 'best efforts' nature of the Internet. In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle."

Kroes said the EU Member States will continue to review the regulation and that the Commission expects final agreement of the regulation by the end of 2014.

The European Parliament meanwhile said it has voted on its first reading of the draft legislation in order to consolidate the work done so far and hand it over to the next Parliament. MEP elections take place in May.

For more:
- see this release from the European Parliament
- see this statement by Neelie Kroes
- see this statement by ETNO
- see this statement by the GSMA

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