MEPs voted yesterday (27 October) against amendments to the telecoms single market legislation, passing the new law without last minute changes lodged against its measures on net neutrality.
The legislation package also includes the popular deal to end mobile roaming charges within the EU.
In Tuesday’s plenary debate, some MEPs argued in favour of passing the compromise agreement without amendments so it could go into effect quickly. The draft text was agreed upon in negotiations between the European Parliament, Commission and Council that closed in June.
The bill will now be reviewed by EU telecoms regulator BEREC before it is applied in member states.
Under the legislation, net neutrality rules will prevent internet service providers from blocking internet traffic—unless they’re required by law or need to manage congestion. But critics aggressively attacked rules that allow companies to offer different internet quality for ‘specialised services’.
Mobile roaming charges are also set to drop entirely by 2017 under the legislation and a first decrease in charges for phone calls, SMS messages and data use is scheduled for April next year.
Following the plenary vote, Spanish MEP Pilar del Castillo (PP), rapporteur on the single telecoms market package, said referring to roaming charges, “In a way free movement of people is hampered by that fee”.
Del Castillo called roaming a “tax that falls heavily on the shoulders of European citizens who move around the European Union”.
Other MEPs criticised loopholes in the agreement: some said the end date for roaming charges is still unclear, and others were up in arms about what they described as a net neutrality law that would create a two-tier internet with speedier service available at a higher price.
“A neutral internet allows small businesses to challenge the big operators. If you don’t have net neutrality you leave the field open to the big operators,” said Austrian MEP Michel Reimon (Green), shadow rapporteur on the legislation.
Reimon tabled several amendments last week with other MEPs targeting the bill’s net neutrality provisions.
ETNO, the European association representing telecoms companies, said in a statement that network quality and services would benefit consumers. “Connected driving, e-health, new business models for online content distribution: this requires network management as well as differentiation of services,” the statement read.
Internet and freedom of expression campaigners launched the ‘Save the Internet‘ initiative before the plenary session, which urged supporters to ask MEPs to vote for the amendments.
“The European Parliament has avoided making decisions on all crucial points,” said Joe McNamee, executive director of NGO European Digital Rights, indicating that national regulators will now have to clear up “abuses” in the legislation.
US-based tech companies, associations and entrepreneurs addressed a letter to MEPs on Monday (25 October) that called for “strong net neutrality protections” and criticised the EU agreement’s measures on specialised services, traffic management and other issues.
EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger addressed opposition to the internet rules following the Parliament vote yesterday afternoon.
“If the concerns of the organisations are ever realised, I’m prepared to propose a change,” Oettinger said.
“We have a good basis that will go into practice and then we’ll see what comes out of that.”