The European Parliament’s latest compromise on Internet traffic rules shows there is still a chasm between their negotiators and those in the Council and Commission, according to a leaked draft obtained by POLITICO.
As the three sides gathered for meetings in Brussels this week, the debate over so-called net neutrality threatened to erode their progress on mobile phone roaming charges. MEPs from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe party, the European Conservatives and Reformists group and the Socialists & Democrats group are threatening to walk away from talks on the telecoms single market.
Those on the left in Parliament want all Internet traffic to be treated equally, barring exceptional circumstances. The conservatives, on the other side, want to revert to an earlier Council proposal that would allow “reasonable” discrimination based on service type (video versus e-mail, for example). The Commission sits in the middle of these warring parties.
If the left wins, telecoms companies say there will be disastrous consequences, with Europe’s competitiveness held back in areas such as connected cars, e-health and other “smart” devices and services.
“It would jeopardize a well-functioning Internet with all the prescription and limitation,” said a top executive for a telecom company, who was not authorized to speak to the media. “The Parliament doesn’t understand how the Internet works…When I talk to my engineers they say it’s simply not in line with reality.”
James Waterworth, vice president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, added, “If they ban discrimination based on type of traffic that sounds like it might be unnecessarily constraining and detrimental. Traffic management is a necessary part of managing the Internet and has always been.”
If the Conservatives win, telecoms operators could have more freedom to govern Internet access.
“Telcos do not want transparency into their traffic management practices,” said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch MEP and ALDE member. “They want more freedom to manage traffic how they want to, but it becomes a slippery slope.”
Neither side seems willing to budge.
“The last group consensus was that maybe it is better to walk away than agree to a bad compromise. We don’t want net neutrality to be watered down,” said an ALDE insider, who was not authorized to talk to the press and requested anonymity.
The right to bear porn
A big stumbling block is whether parents should be allowed to opt in to child locks from their Internet service providers (ISPs). That debate has divided UK conservatives and many in Parliament.
Vicky Ford, a British MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists group, is fighting to include an exception that allows users, often parents, to request their ISP block pornography and “gratuitous violence.”
In the UK, all major ISPs give users the option to block adult content. Consumers are prompted to choose whether to turn on the blocking filter when they first use their Internet connection.
“If you go back into the old fashioned world, you didn’t leave your porn magazines lying around for your kids to look at, you would hide them,” Ford said. “You could say to your child, ‘No, you can’t go and see that movie,’ and switch off the TV before the 9 p.m. watershed.”
She cautioned, “It will be a real shame if we can’t agree on parental blocks and that holds everything up.”
A strategic loss
There has been much speculation about why Parliament would propose such a controversial text. Several sources told POLITICO it was a tactical move designed to force the left into a corner.
A source involved in the negotiations, said, “This proposal [will be] sent to the [Latvian] presidency for them to say ‘f*** off,’ allowing everyone else to tell the left ‘look guys you are going to derail the whole telecoms single market package’.”
This story was updated to clarify a person’s role in the negotiations.
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