Telecoms: European Parliament calls for net neutrality

Parliament has adopted a report on the single market for electronic communications and a compromise text on electronic identification & trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market.

By Dods EU Political Intelligence

Leading provider of EU parliamentary and political intelligence, delivered by an expert team of specialist researchers

03 Apr 2014

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

Vera Pilar Del Castillo (EPP, ES) said that a solid foundation needs to be achieved. One needs to focus on several aspects: improving the conditions for developing and coordinating the use of the spectrum, better EU coordination, extending the use of the spectrum, better use of broadband and 3G-4G infrastructure can boost the EU economy. It is vital that we have an open internet with access for everybody, she said. The internet has opportunities for creators, companies, for the youngest and the oldest. She emphasised the importance of an inclusive internet which is open to all. It must be a driving force for innovation. We should be promoting innovation and encourage innovation and talent, this is vital for Europe to take its place in the world market. It is important that there is no interference or discrimination on the internet, she said. The EU should benefit from all the impetus this technology can give. Europe should not be left behind. She added that it is time to end roaming charges. One cannot spend one’s time talking about mobility and the single market and at the same time allow us to stay in a situation where people are penalised when they go abroad and are mobile. She concluded by saying we need to get rid of the roaming barrier.

Edit Herczog (S&D, HU) argued that a united Europe starts with overcoming the obstacles and one way of doing so is by digitalising Europe, with access for all. The internet has to be accessible and affordable to everyone and investment in this industry must be promoted, she said. Europe has a fragmented market and if we fall behind, this could be disastrous in the marketplace, she argued. The unsatisfactory quality is what keeps prices too high. Digital access is beneficial for social inclusion, she stated. Sparsely populated areas should also have access to high-speed internet. Without access to information, health and education they cannot be equal members of society. Internet is a basic need in the 21st century; costs of internet access must be driven down. She acknowledged that it is expensive to invest in physical infrastructure but we must do our utmost to do such investment. We must find solutions for developing physical infrastructure and make public buildings ready for high-speed internet. Having 100% coverage is one of the priorities of the EU 2020 strategy. Citizens should have at least 30 MB and half of the population should have access to 100 MB. She added that once the goals are reached, these goals must be doubled. One cannot sit back and relax.

Marita Ulvskog (S&D, SE) explained that e-identification is already being used for tax declaration in Sweden. She added that electronic identity should also be used across the EU. It sounds simple and reasonable but when one looks at the details one can see it is easier to say it than implement it. The practical benefits for citizens are important. More and more contact with authorities and companies takes place through the internet. We live a good portion of our lives on the internet, she said. She explained that the other part of the proposal deals with e-signatures. There is already existing legislation in place but we have to make it easier for companies to use e-signatures. It can also be of benefit for procurement. Everything that works on paper should also work online. She explained that they managed to find good compromises; they made it voluntary for countries to recognise other countries’ e-IDs by 2015 and made this binding by 2020. Subsidiarity is also important. The systems need to be able to interact properly and must understand each other. They also discussed privacy issues. She concluded by stating that it is a regulation that represents a step forward: it will make lives easier for those who get involved in e-commerce and carry out transactions.

Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, stated that the single market is an opportunity for the EU. She said that e-identification services are convenient, transparent and have benefits that do not stop at the border. She also mentioned cutting the cost of broadband roll-out and argued that citizens will be happy by getting better broadband and fewer road works. She compared the digital world to an eco-system: it is not good to have one bit without the other. It is not good to have a fancy new phone when roaming charges make people switch it off. Digital resources are crucial resources for the 21st century and citizens expect them. We have to liberate the billion devices in Europe. We need rules for the connected continent. She said that the suggested changes remain in line with the Commission’s vision.

Freedom underpins a rich vibrant online world, she said, and she underlined that she wants to save the internet with actions. She said that she stands for freedom, openness and innovation. Innovation means no more blocking or throttling of services on the internet. However, we need safeguards for specialised services, she argued. She explained that specialised services cannot be forced on users against their will, they will never be about making people pay for YouTube for instance. She said that some amendments want to block specialised services. She added that good tele-health services also depend on services. She said that she hopes the internet remains a platform for innovation. Please click here to read her entire opening speech.

Marielle Gallo (EPP, FR), on behalf of the IMCO Committee, said that e-documents should obtain the same legal recognition as paper documents. As a result, students would no longer have to go physically sign up at a university in another Member State. The key point is trust and she said she is very proud that her idea of a European label has been taken up. Service providers meeting the security conditions will hence be able to display this label and be a guarantee for citizens.

Malcolm Harbour (ECR, UK), on behalf of the IMCO Committee, said that they are very keen to improve users’ rights. They incorporated the reforms into changes in the existing directive. Consumers will have better information and rights. Financial limits could be predefined, for instance.

Petra Kammerevert (S&D, DE), on behalf of the CULT Committee, said that telecom companies have turned to MEPs and complained that the network neutrality amendments will have a negative effect on the single market. She said that the European Parliament is not only there to maximise the profits of companies. Information and freedoms should not be ignored. Establishing network neutrality in law means that any content can be made available to any network users whether or not it is offered by a big or small company. She asked her colleagues to adopt the network neutrality amendments.

Alajos Meszaros (EPP, SK), on behalf of the JURI Committee, said that the virtual world needs to be adjusted. This regulation is the last step amongst key measures included in the single market act. We are responding to a need that digital market players have, they need a set of reliable electronic transactions, they need legal security, he said. They need help for cross border services by promoting electronic identification systems.

Marielle Gallo (EPP, FR), on behalf of the JURI Committee, stated that one needs to look at the responsibilities of those who provide identification systems. Europeans are still too afraid of the digital sector, they are full of prejudices. The EU institutions should be there to reassure them. If we do not fight the battle for the digital sector, if the EU is not going to manage, then other parts of the world are going to eat the EU alive, she warned.

Jens Rohde (ALDE, DK), on behalf of the LIBE Committee, said he disagrees with Kammerevert. If no-one earns any money from the internet, then it will not be built up or available for use. He congratulated Kroes for having had the courage to propose a package that guarantees a better European playing field. We can improve mobility, create a better balance and can pool resources and bring Member States together. There are many different interests for citizens.

Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens/EFA, DE) reacted to Rohde’s statement by stating that internet users already pay a fee, providers are already earning money and it is the Member States who are investing in the infrastructure.

Jens Rohde (ALDE, DK) replied that that is the reason why balance is so important. Citizens need industry. Interests have to converge and be combined.

Gunnar Hokmark (EPP, SE) said that the internet has been one of the most dynamic phenomena in the world. He said he is shocked by people who want to block it. The important thing is that the internet is free. People should be able to buy products, pay for media and services. One has to be open-minded about services. He does not want services to be blocked, but instead he wants an opportunity for service providers to offer specialised services. We must meet an open and free internet with the ability to purchase new things, he said. He added that the connection speed also needs to be improved.

Catherine Trautmann (S&D, FR) explained that consumers will have access to new services at better costs. She said that the report ensures fair competition for completion and presents an opinion on net neutrality. We consider that the internet is a public space; everyone should be able to choose which services to use. She welcomed the creation of such services but wanted to frame the definition and ensure that they are not detrimental to other users of the internet. We cannot accept anything that works against net neutrality, she concluded.

Paul Rubig (EPP, AT) asked Trautmann to explain to what extent she would allow specialised services.

Catherine Trautmann (S&D, FR) replied that they do not want specialised services to be detrimental to people who do not use them.

Marietje Schaake (ALDE, NL) said that the package is essential for a digital single market. We need more access, broadband and net neutrality, she said. Millions of Europeans do not have access to websites. More clarity is needed on net neutrality. She tabled amendments and her group does not want to block specialised services but they want to make them specific.

Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, NL) asked Schaake what the position is of the ALDE group.

Marietje Schaake (ALDE, NL) replied that the ALDE group would want to abolish roaming faster and have lower fees for IP services.

Amelia Andersdotter (Greens/EFA, SE) said that they have repeatedly expressed their commitment to protect human rights and equal opportunities on the European market. Safeguarding net neutrality is important. She asked her colleagues to back these amendments. She argued that there are loopholes. She accused the Commission of drafting bad proposals and said that the lack of leadership of Neelie Kroes has caused confusion. Finally, she asked for the prevention of hasty revisions.

Vicky Ford (ECR, UK) said that she is in favour of moving excessive roaming parts and that she is in favour of an open internet but claimed that some services should be blocked, namely, child pornography websites. She added that amendment 243 would stop them being able to do this. She said that it is dangerous and that the amendment must not be allowed to go through.

Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL, PT) reiterated that the internet is becoming an essential right and there should be no discrimination. It is a way that could be used to link people together. There is an executive class that is trying to take hold of the internet. Net neutrality is essential.

Roger Helmer (EFD, UK) said that telecoms and the internet were created by private individuals. They were not invented by governments. He argued that EU control over the internet could lead to censorship, and added that the British and German governments have warned and asked for a simpler approach.

Angelika Niebler (EPP, DE) said that she hoped the compromise would be adopted. There was broad support for a roaming-free Europe from the beginning of 2016. A digital single market should not continue to charge for roaming. In terms of net neutrality, she said that no one wants discrimination on the internet.

Bernadette Vergnaud (S&D, FR) said that improvements have been made in terms of consumer access information. Consumers have to be informed about the minimum cost of fixed internet. She also referred to the 112 number.

Vladko Todorov Panayotov (ALDE, BG) argued that high speed infrastructure is the backbone of the single digital market. It will be an opportunity to use the integrated and fully functional single digital market and will contribute to the competitiveness of the EU economy and provide long term sustainability in Europe. This document will be an instrument to fight the challenges of society.

Bogdan Kazimierz Marcinkiewic (EPP, PL) said that in order to build on our development, we have to ensure it functions with the telecom package. The new obligations should become fully valid as of 2016 and the internet has to remain open. He emphasised the definition of internet neutrality, the traffic has to be treated based on the same principle, he said, as it guarantees that specialised services will not act to the detriment of the open internet. Providers should not limit the services they provide.

Teresa Riera Madurell (S&D, ES) said that electronic and internet communications are essential for any democracy. The digital divide needs to be closed. We do not want a reduced internet, we want an open internet. Only then will the internet be a fair platform. She welcomed the demand for roaming to end in 2015.

Adina-Ioana Valean (ALDE, RO) said she shares the objective of the Commission proposal to have a digital single market. As the former rapporteur of roaming II, she was satisfied that roaming charges will end in 2015. She also welcomed the fact that the European Parliament asks for an open internet. A new spectrum management is also important, she concluded.

Catch the eye

Sabine Verheyen (EPP, DE) said that specialised services should not affect the quality of internet access. One needs to ensure that we improve the markets and that there is no discrimination. The principle of net neutrality is important and we need to make that clear in the text.

Judith A Merkies (S&D, NL) said that all the developments in terms of the internet take a rapid flight and often we stand there just watching what is happening. We create the future on the internet, she said. She argued that the impact of the definition of specialised services is going to be enormous. She said that the Netherlands have a law on net neutrality which could be a good example for the EU.

Sandrine Belier (Greens/EFA, FR) argued that the specialised services are a contradiction. We refuse to sacrifice citizens’ freedom, she said, and her group would vote against. They will be defending the amendment on net neutrality.

Martina Michels (GUE/NGL, DE) said that her group wants to prevent having first and second class citizens on the internet. Net neutrality is in jeopardy. She referred to a petition signed by 150,000 people of a big German internet community who support that concern.

Franz Obermayr (NI, AT) said that the internet is one of the very few parameters in society that is not in the hands of interest groups. The internet is a common good and it is shocking that market discrimination would be allowed. Net neutrality needs to be preserved. Citizens have the right to obtain independent information and we need to defend that right.

Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, stressed the importance of the vote. She said that she was pleased that everyone is in favour of an open internet. She argued that forbidding new services is not the way to provide innovation and is a poor way to safeguard an open connected continent. She assured that the Commission’s proposal will not create a two-speed internet. It will create an innovative fast-forward internet. New safeguards and powers will ensure that specialised services cannot come at the expense of an open internet. Specialised services will be within a frame, not everyone is accepted. The amendment regarding the definition of net neutrality would not allow specialised services, she said. If you decide to block specialised services, then you should be aware of the consequences, she said. As for voluntary measures to stop serious crimes, she said that fighting child pornography is close to her heart. It is not acceptable in a decent society. If there are concerns about opening up action against illegitimate sites, there should not be an obstacle to identify and block such sites. Please click here to read her entire closing speech.

Vera Pilar Del Castillo (EPP, ES) thanked the Commissioner for her determination to push the legislative proposal through. Millions of citizens will be looking and asking what the European Parliament is for. She said that the vote is a real opportunity to show that the European Parliament can improve citizens’ lives. There are many measures that the ITRE Committee has already adopted regarding spectrum, mobile internet and genuine open internet, including specialised services and innovative services and encouraging creative talent.

Edit Herczog (S&D, HU) stated that investment is key. Broadband high-speed internet investment is the only way to avoid two- or three-speed internet. In the rural areas, people can only have low speed access. Every EU citizen has the right to be able to have access to specialised services.

Marita Ulvskog (S&D, SE) said that one should not only fight on infrastructure but also on content. We should not be creating differences on infrastructure but on content. We want net neutrality, she concluded.

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