Yesterday, MEPs approved a compromise proposal on the EU's telecoms rules, to be transposed into national law by 2011.
Amended versions of the text have been passed from pillar to post since the package failed to win the Parliament's approval in June (EurActiv 12/06/09).
The package's original author, the European Commission, hailed the EU assembly's decision as a victory for European consumers. According to the EU executive, consumers are set to reap a plethora of benefits in 2010 including:
- The right to switch fixed or mobile operators in one working day while keeping their number;
- the right to be better informed about subscription-based services;
- the right to be informed about data breaches by their telecoms operator, and;
- the obligation for operators to give consumers the option of signing a contract which lasts no longer than 12 months.
Europe's network operators welcomed the package, the adoption of which had been marred by disagreements, delaying investment in the construction of networks for high-speed Internet (EurActiv 13/11/09), according to statements from trade associations.
Operators are also set to gain from freed up radio spectrum intended to extend broadband access to areas where building new lines would be too expensive.
"The Commission's own data published this month shows that no progress has been made towards competitive broadband markets for more than two years with incumbents continuing to dominate most markets," the European Competitive Telecommunication Association said in a statement hailing the package's approval.
Additionally, at the insistence of the European Parliament, an Internet freedom rule will prevent national authorities from cutting off suspected illegal downloaders' access unless there has been "a prior, fair and impartial procedure and effective and timely judicial review," the Commission said in a statement.
Hadopi or no Hadopi?
The provision on Internet freedom was the package's stumbling block in June and could still cause quarrels between the Commission and member states wishing to interpret the provision differently.
Sweden's Pirate Party have argued since the package's inception that the text's wording would allow member states to cut off suspected Internet pirates' connections without a fair trial – a draft law called Hadopi in France.
Hadopi – named after the agency that would penalise offenders – is also considered a three-strike approach, as the agency first sends a warning email to a suspected pirate, then a letter and then a copyright judge orders the suspension of the user's Web connection.
Britain's business secretary, Lord Peter Mandelson, has also expressed support for a similar law and UK lawmakers are reportedly busy creating a draft. However, EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said that under no circumstances was the text a green light for a Hadopi-like law.
She repeated her view at a telecommunications conference in Barcelona on Monday (23 November), warning Spain that if it were to cut off Internet access without a procedure in front of a judge, it would conflict with the European Commission.
A minor spat on cookies
In what lawmakers call "a silly and onerous point," the text's safeguards on Internet cookies caused some controversy last week as some member states rushed to declare how they would interpret the law before it went to a parliamentary vote (EurActiv 23/11/09).
The EU text states that those distributing cookies – a tool used by marketers to track a user's Internet habits and send targeted advertising – must seek authorisation from the user before installing the trackers on their browser.
The UK delegation allegedly feared that users would be bombarded with authorisation requests every time a browser tried to install a cookie.
However, the European Publishers Council said the package's ePrivacy law accepts that controls on Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera and Safari comply with the consent requirements.
A Commission spokesman added that the law makes a distinction between cookies and unwanted software such as adware, junk, or even viruses and spyware, requiring software vendors to seek a user's consent before installation.