A proposed shake-up of the EU telecoms sector passed its first hurdle in the European Parliament yesterday (18 March) but may stumble over 'Net Neutrality' in a final plenary vote scheduled for the beginning of April.
Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s industry committee adopted the draft telecoms reform yesterday (18 March) but braced for a showdown when the text returns to plenary for a vote in April.
The amended text maintains key elements of the 'Connected Continent' proposal originally tabled by Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes last September, including the most controversial ones on Net neutrality.
But despite the Parliament's efforts, the text remains unsatisfactory for most actors affected by the reform.
The European People's Party (EPP) and the Liberal Party (ALDE) supported the Commission proposal, while the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) abstained. The text passed with 30 votes in favour, 12 against, and 14 abstentions.
A wide and disparate front rejected the text on Net Neutrality, arguing it fails to protect consumers from being cut off the web by Internet access providers, or from paying web services that are currently free of charge.
Consumers and industry representatives attacked the text for its provisions on Net neutrality, albeit for different reasons.
This wide front, with the support of socialists, eurosceptics and other MEPs, may derail the vote on the telecoms package scheduled on 2-3 April at the last plenary session of the European Parliament before the May Parliamentary elections.
Even in the case of a positive vote in plenary, the text will need to be negotiated with member states by the new Parliament, which will likely have a different composition and power balance than today.
The new MEPs will certainly be less keen to fight against the Council's red lines for a text produced by a different Parliament.
Uncertainty over roaming and spectrum
Political parties trumpeted their role in bringing forward the end of roaming surcharges, paid when subscribers use their mobile phones in another European country.
In fact, the Parliament voted to end roaming fees "by 15 December 2015", only two weeks ahead of the Commission's original proposal, which referred to "by 2016 or earlier".
In addition, progress proclaimed on radio spectrum is mostly cosmetic, as the text does not deal with the crucial issue of deciding which services – mobile phone or TV – should benefit from the limited frequencies available. In any case, the spectrum reform is likely to face obstruction by member states, which are unlikely to relinquish such a strategic asset.