A vote next week in the Italian Parliament could create Europe’s first regulation on online platforms. The MP who proposed the bill is meeting officials in Brussels this week while the European Commission considers drafting its own legislation.
If it passes, the draft bill would give users of mobile devices in Italy more freedom to access and get rid of apps by putting restrictions on companies that make it difficult for users to switch services. The bill would also introduce the first net neutrality law in Italy, before the newly approved EU net neutrality law is implemented in 2017.
A committee vote was scheduled for yesterday (18 November) on the bill but was postponed until next Tuesday (22 November). If it passes, the bill will bypass a plenary vote in Parliament and go straight on to the Senate for approval.
Stefano Quintarelli, the lawmaker from the Scelta Civica party who proposed the bill, is meeting officials from the Commission and other institutions this week in Brussels.
Quintarelli said he’s optimistic the bill will pass. In Spring 2016, he plans to table another proposal to regulate online platforms that’s more far reaching.
Italy’s push for legislation on platforms comes towards the end of the executive’s controversial probe of platforms. The European Commission launched a public consultation on platforms in September that will end next month. It includes a number of questions on transparency and platforms’ role in giving or restricting access to other services.
The Commission is expected to propose measures next year to keep platforms in check, but its inquiry has drawn criticism that it unfairly targets mostly large American technology companies including Google and Apple.
France and Germany put pressure on theexecutive to start the probe.
Britain’s House of Lords also launched its own inquiry into platforms in September.
But Quintarelli’s bill marks the first national legislation in Europe to specifically address how platforms might discriminate against apps and other services.
“User data—not only personal data, but also data from internet of things devices—are the fuel for discrimination. Discrimination can be a barrier to competition,” Quintarelli told EurActiv.
The bill would give users the right to delete apps and to download apps that aren’t from the app store on their device, provided its compatible with the operating system.
“It’s obvious because we come from PCs, we know there’s a world where you can choose where you get your software and you can choose which software you get,” he said.
Quintarelli, a former entrepreneur and director of the Italian internet provider association AIIP, said there’s a need to regulate platforms now—before they get too big.
“If we don’t do anything, in ten years time we will have a situation where we’ll have huge players that are monopolies. They decide who is going to survive and who is not going to survive. It’s starting to be that way now,” he said.
“If you are not listed in a proper way the one who controls the platform controls the market.”
Quintarelli said it’s “inevitable” that the European Commission will legislate on platforms considering how many apps have become available in less than ten years.
The Italian lawmaker suggested that the legislation he plans to propose next year will address algorithms. Quintarelli said algorithms need to be looked at to make sure companies don’t use them to discriminate against competing services.
While criticism of the EU platform inquiry focused on claims of protectionism aimed at the Commission, Quintarelli said regulation should defuse those complaints by making sure big companies don’t abuse their market dominance in the first place.
“Uber cars were burned around Europe. This is not how we think things should be. But there is an issue. If we have a monopoly on transportation this is going to be the reaction,” he said.
Taxi drivers protested in cities around Europe earlier this year against ride sharing company Uber, which they claimed did not face the same licensing procedures for its amateur drivers.
Some MEPs have insisted that EU lawmakers act to regulate platforms.
German MEP Andreas Schwab (EPP), one of the most vocal supporters of the EU-wide platform inquiry, told EurActiv that any regulation on platforms should be the same in all EU member states and that national laws could lead to fragmentation.
“The whole debate about platforms is in a certain way a debate that is not so much about platforms but the question of how Europe can react to a very fast growing pressure on traditional value chains exerted by big companies in the digital sector,” he said.
Schwab is EPP coordinator for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) in the European Parliament.
“In the end, the big companies from the US or other parts of the world will not be able to respect all the different 28 member states’ laws so it will be the law of the US that prevails. That will create further barriers to companies that could grow in Europe,” he said.
After publication of this article, Quintarelli clarified that instead of saying "there's a need to regulate platforms now—before they get too big", he intended to say "before they get too big and harsh reactions occur due to lack of a clear framework".
The European Commission presented its plans for the digital single market in May 2015 and announced that it would make concrete proposals on 16 initiatives in 2015 and 2016. The Commission also announced that it would launch an inquiry into online 'platforms', widely perceived to be a move to target large US-based tech companies.
- 30 December 2015: European Commission's public consultation on platforms ends