Europe

Pretty please?

A “SaveTheInternet.eu” coalition of civil society groups has sent a letter to the Council of the EU, which is finalizing the European Union’s new net neutrality rules, urging it not to water them down. Recent leaks suggested this will happen, after years of work to toughen the rules up, alarming EU digital chief Andrus Ansip and digital rights activists alike. The coalition argued that, without meaningful net neutrality rules, large ISPs will become gatekeepers choosing which services get to run in fast and slow lanes, and the economy and human rights will suffer as a result. Citizens are being urged to contact their representatives in the Council, which represents the 28 EU member states, ahead of its Thursday debate on the matter.

As expected, the British telecommunications regulator Ofcom has decided to free up spectrum in the 700MHz for mobile broadband use. Already used for 4G/LTE in the U.S. and Asia, this spectrum is great for long-range deployments and providing in-building coverage, and it’s a couple of years since an EU-level report recommended freeing it up across Europe. In the U.K., the spectrum will be available for mobile broadband use by the start of 2022 at the latest. Free-to-view digital TV and wireless broadcast microphones will need to switch to other frequencies, though. Ofcom also recently decided to free up more high-capacity 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum for mobile broadband use in a couple years’ time.

Nokia — the remaining phone-free Finnish firm, not the handset business that Microsoft bought and recently renamed — has something in store for us. In a Monday tweet teasing the unveiling of “something” on Tuesday at the Slush Festival in Helsinki, Nokia showed off a black box with the company’s familiar logo on the top. All very mysterious, especially considering that, while the company has hinted at a return of its brand to consumer goods, it appeared to do so in the context of brand licensing. The remaining bits of Nokia deal with location-based services and mapping, network equipment and advanced materials research. The black box in that picture doesn’t look like any of those.

Europe’s last antitrust chief, Joaquin Almunia, couldn’t settle his department’s four-year case against Google, keen though he was to do so. Now the new European Commission is in place, his successor, Margrethe Vestager, has said she wants to meet with “those most directly affected” by Google’s anticompetitive practices. That would include vertical search engines such as Yelp and Foundem, publishers and consumer rights groups. “We are talking about fast moving markets – I have to be sure that we have all the facts up to date to get it right,” Vestager said in a Tuesday statement. “The issues at stake in our investigations have a big potential impact on many players… I will therefore need some time to decide on the next steps.”

Germany’s Deutsche Telekom has launched an enormous venture capital fund, totalling €500 million ($621 million) over five years, that’s aimed at newer startups and more mature companies. The fund will be run by a new company called Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners (DTCP) rather than the telco’s existing T-Venture arm, which will still retain responsibility for follow-up investments in its hundred-or-so existing portfolio startups, but will be otherwise closed to new investments. DTCP will have a “special focus” on German startups, and will launch in early 2015. People love to whine about the lack of startup funding in Europe, but in truth the last couple years have seen billions of euros put on the table to support local scenes.

The Samaritans suicide prevention charity in the U.K. has suspended its controversial Samaritans Radar Twitter app, which scanned the tweets of people that subscribers follow, in order to find signs of heavy depression and alert the subscribers. Critics, many of whom have experience of mental health issues, pointed out that the app was a gift to stalkers and trolls, and a disincentive to using Twitter to vent. Consent was a major issue, with the people being monitored not even receiving notifications when their tweets were flagged. In a Friday blog post, the Samaritans apologized “to anyone who has inadvertently been caused any distress” and said they would test “potential changes” to the app. The suspension took too long to arrive, but I’m glad it has.

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