EU telecoms reform goes back to negotiating table

STRASBOURG, France Wed May 6, 2009 9:12am EDT

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STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - The European Parliament sent a major reform of EU telecoms rules back to the negotiating table on Wednesday due to concerns over perceived inadequate rights for Internet users.

EU states have joint say with the assembly and had given the green light to the reform, but a change to any of the elements means the proposed legislation has to be reworked.

EU governments and lawmakers will have about two months, with the clock set to start in September, to reach a new deal otherwise the draft reform fails.

"When a single part is rejected the whole package will go to conciliation," said Catherine Trautmann, the French socialist who steered part of the reform through parliament.

The package has three parts. All were adopted but due to a successful amendment to one of them, the deal with EU states is reopened.

Parliament voted 407 in favor, 57 against and with 171 abstentions on an amendment backed by members of the Green Party, some Liberals and independents aimed at beefing up Internet users' rights.

It marks a dramatic, late victory for lawmakers who want to make it harder for the authorities to cut off Internet access to a subscriber suspected of breaches such as illegal downloading of copyright material.

The amendment said there should be a court ruling before a connection could be cut. The deal reached with states, using softer wording, would have given an Internet user recourse to an independent tribunal.

The amendment was backed by lawmakers angered by France's moves to introduce a national "three strikes and out" law aimed at cracking down on illegal downloads.

EU telecoms ministers meet on June 12 and have the option of accepting the amendment made by parliament to avoid conciliation.

"There is one open issue now, which is very important for citizens," said the spokesman for EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding, who drafted the reform.

"The European Commission is now together with the council (of ministers) to see whether at the telecoms council on June 12 it's possible to get the agreement of member states on this. This package is too important to fail over this issue," he said.

The reform seeks to update existing EU telecoms rules drawn up before the big surge in broadband, Wifi and mobile phone usage as the bloc's 495 million citizens increasingly operate in a digital world.

(Editing by Dale Hudson)

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