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When even the experts are struggling, it should set off alarm bells. The net neutrality issue is hotting up in the European Parliament, but who really understands what is happening? It has been under scrutiny from the various committees and is now with the Industry committee for a vote in a couple of weeks time. The signs are that the rapporteur, Pilar Del Castillo, is being challenged, but there are concerning indications that MEPs will give in to amendments that put at risk not only the structure of the Internet, but of the whole telecoms market.

Essentially, this is a political battle being fought in the form of written amendments to the Telecoms Regulation (Proposal on a European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent). Whilst net neutrality is only one aspect of the proposal, it is by far the most contentious. Moreover, as the Parliament deletes the so-called 'Commission power-grab' elements of the Regulation, not much of interest is left except net neutrality (see The Connected Continent carve-out: what will be left in new telecoms rules? ).

Over 800 amendments have been tabled to the draft telecoms regulation (Connected Continent) . Of those 800 amendments tabled to Mrs Del Castillo's report, almost 20 per cent of them are on net neutrality. On Article 23, sub-point 5 - the Commission's flagship non-discrimination provision - there are a whopping 55 amendments. The notion of 'specialised services' ( see ) also comes in for a lot of attention with over 40 amendments to three clauses.

The responsible committee, ITRE, has already delayed its vote on the Regulation from this month to next, and it is likely that this reflects the difficulty in working through these amendments.

The rapporteur is tasked with obtaining a consensus view on the Regulation from the Parliament. She is also tasked with engaged in secret discussions with her political colleagues over "compromises" .

Three other committees have voted on the Connected continent Regulation. They are the Legal Affairs, Internal Market and Civil Liberties committees. According to insider sources, the understanding of this legislation is to found wanting.

What they don't get is how the real game changer in the telecoms market is this notion of specialised services. One should not be mis-led by this title. There is nothing 'specialised' about the services that are being proposed in this category. 'Specialised services' will be voice telephony and television. ( See EU telecoms rules - smokescreen lifts over telco specialised services).

This is about content and carriage and it's a basic principle of telecommunications that appears to be ill-understood in either the Commission or the Parliament. 'Specialised services' will be carried over a broadband transmission system and into people's homes over a single wire shared with the 'Internet'.

The telecoms industry wants this so that it can integrate its transmission systems - for cost saving, but also so it can make the most of it deep packet inspection systems to run the euphemistically-titled 'personalised network services'. That means it will carve up delivery of content so that the people can be charged in some way for delivery it and the aim of the telecoms industry is to do in a way that earns them more revenue. They are clear that if they need to do so, they will swap capacity between 'specialised' and 'internet' services and that is one lever they will use to squeeze more money out of subscribers.

The French citizens advocacy group, La Quadrature du Net says that 'by refusing to ban specialised services' the Connected Continent regulation would 'bypass the net neutrality principle and undermine fair competition in the digital economy'.

But this is also about how different types of services are regulated separately. In particular, voice telephony has special rules to ensure that connectivity and service is maintained. Internet was allowed to free of a lot of that regulation because policy-makers wanted to encourage growth and subscriber take up. What's happening with this proposed change to EU telecoms law, is that voice telephony will creep into the unregulated sector.

Looking across the Atlantic, there's talk about turning off the old voice networks (PSTN) altogether. But has anybody thought about what that means?

The law that appears to have been drafted with the collusion of industry where only a few people know the real agenda behind it. That makes it dangerous.

If I am right, the industry that has given us deep packet inspection is about be trusted with less regulation.

With these kind of warning signs, is it time to call a halt to Mrs Del Castillo's telecoms mission creep?


La Quadrature du Net has more information on the secret 'compromise' negotiations in the ITRE committee. Its campaign site is savetheinternet.eu

I am happy to receive feedback from readers on this topic, as it is very complex and the devil will be in the detail.

To understand the political context to the Telecoms (Connected Continent) regulation, see my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma - Internet Politics and the 'Telecoms Package'
which discusses the 2009 Telecoms Package and the processing of it by the European Parliament.

This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, Net neutrality gets final scrutiny in EU Parliament - should we be alarmed? in Iptegrity.com 18 February 2014. Commercial users - please contact me.


Tags: EU Telecoms Regulation, EU, European Commission, European Parliament, Connected Continent, net neutrality, Pilar del Castillo, ITRE, Telecoms Package, telecoms reform package.


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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.