The European Union’s new package of telecoms laws, which includes the bloc’s first explicit net neutrality legislation, has hit a snag: a crucial vote in the European Parliament’s industry committee was supposed to take place on Monday, but was delayed, ostensibly due to a technicality over translations.
That’s the official, reasonably plausible explanation for the two-week delay, in any case. As it happens, the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee is heavily divided on the net neutrality issue, specifically over whether internet service providers should be able to degrade types of traffic to the detriment of consumers who expect the full, as-neutral-as-possible internet.
When the telecoms package passed through the last committee, which focused on consumer rights, it saw significant improvements over the original version put forward by the European Commission. Specifically, that committee axed the explicit right for telecoms operators and content providers to strike deals with one another, and tightened up the kinds of “shaping” that telecoms operators can perform on citizens’ internet traffic.
ITRE is a different story. Digital rights campaigners such as La Quadrature du Net have argued that proposals made by ITRE chair Pilar Del Castillo Vera and others in the committee would allow telcos to offer services in which some kinds of traffic are degraded or blocked.
They also highlight various potential loopholes and oppose measures that would allow ISPs to offer “specialized services” optimized for a specific kind of content – think IPTV, for example – without a ban on those specialized services being functionally identical to normal internet provision.
Amelia Andersdotter, the Swedish Pirate MEP, who sits on the ITRE committee, welcomed the delay:
— Amelia Andersdotter (@teirdes) February 24, 2014
As for Neelie Kroes, who proposed the legislation in the first place, the digital agenda commissioner said in a statement that she was confident the delay wouldn’t “distract the ITRE members from their vote on this important proposal”:
“It is clear that there is majority support for the [Telecoms Single Market] package, and that the package is a win-win for all the different parties.
This postponement only increases the energy I will put into delivering this package! I hope all MEPs can now focus on the huge benefits for every European in a connected continent.”
It’s very true that the package contains all kinds of useful stuff – cheaper roaming between EU member states is in there too – but legislators need to get the net neutrality elements right before sending the finalized text off for a full European Parliament plenary vote.
With the net neutrality battle having been lost for now in the United States, what happens in Europe will have a decisive effect on the future of the internet, most probably everywhere. An extra two weeks for digital rights campaigners to harangue their local MEPs can’t be a bad thing.
This article was edited at 5.50am PT to note that Amelia Andersdotter is Swedish, not Icelandic.