* Proposals would enshrine net neutrality in EU rules
* Plan would limit web services for which telcos can charge
* Telcos say proposals are intrusive
* Internet activists fear inaction will create two-tier
(Adds La Quadrature du Net comments)
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, March 31 European lawmakers will vote
on proposals this week that could severely restrict telecoms
operators from mining a potentially lucrative revenue source by
charging content providers more to deliver services at faster
The proposals would enshrine net neutrality - the principle
that Internet service providers must treat all traffic equally
regardless of the source or content - in European Union law
applicable across 28 countries.
They would also set restrictions on the kind of online
services for which Internet providers can charge extra.
The European Parliament will vote at noon on Thursday on the
recommendations tabled by a group of socialist, liberal and
ecologist MEPs and an earlier less restrictive compromise agreed
by a European Parliament committee.
Lawmakers, facing elections in May, are under pressure to
pass consumer-friendly measures such as the latest proposal,
which could have a big impact on industry.
If accepted, the proposals would put Europe ahead of the
United States, where a court struck down federal rules on net
neutrality in January following a challenge by Verizon
Communications. It would come as a blow to telecoms firms
faced with their fifth consecutive year of revenue decline.
Telecoms operators have seen profits badly hit by price
competition in their traditional business of providing phone and
Internet access to consumers and are now fighting for a share of
the profits from popular and bandwidth-hungry services such as
video streaming and music downloads.
Just last week, U.S. streaming video services company
Netflix urged Internet service providers such as U.S. broadband
provider Comcast to give free network connections to content
companies, saying this was key to ensuring net neutrality.
The telecoms companies have spent billions building networks
for such services and want to be able to charge for different
services and speeds, which they say would enable them to invest
in continual service upgrades.
Luigi Gambardella, head of the European Telecommunications
Network Operators' Association (ETNO), said the EU lawmakers'
proposals were "technically intrusive rules" which would
threaten the Internet.
"All those businesses and organisations who now rely on
services requiring high quality experience, like HD video on
demand or telemedicine, will be affected," he said.
"What is the most worrying, the European internet will have
to be managed in a completely different way than the rest of the
world. Which would clearly harm the competitiveness of the
European digital economy," he said.
ETNO members include Orange, Telecom Italia
, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica.
The current proposal, put forward by Socialist and Green
party MEPs, says: "(Specialised) services shall only be offered
if the network capacity is sufficient to provide them in
addition to Internet access services and they are not to the
detriment of the availability or quality of Internet access
Internet activists say regulators and lawmakers should
prevent a two-tier Internet from emerging and clarify which
kinds of online services access providers can charge extra for.
"We are worried that all Internet access providers will make
deals with big content providers. The proposals from the greens,
socialists and liberals will make sure small providers are not
excluded," said Felix Treguer at advocacy group La Quadrature du
Ryan Heath, European Commission spokesman for telecoms
policy, said: "We are committed to net neutrality, to
non-discrimination between packets of data on the Internet. We
think our proposal achieves that."
The proposals need the blessing of the EU's 28 governments
before they can become law. Currently only the Netherlands and
Slovenia have net neutrality legislation in place.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Tom Heneghan)