EU reaches draft deal over Internet spat

LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) - The European Union has reached a draft deal to resolve a spat holding up a sweeping reform of the bloc’s telecom sector, lawmakers and diplomats said on Tuesday.

The battle over handling copyright abuse has emerged as a final sticking point between EU states and the European Parliament, which have a joint say on the reform.

“Subject to final agreement by all member states tomorrow I do think we have a package which will advance the European telecoms sector,” said Malcolm Harbour, a British centre-right member of the European Parliament.

“I am absolutely delighted. It has been deeply frustrating to feel this one issue which was not in any way at the centre of what we were doing could derail two years of work,” Harbour said. Another source in parliament confirmed the deal.

A draft deal was reached at a meeting between the Czech EU presidency and members of parliament on Tuesday.

“There is a preliminary agreement on the wording. It’s looking very good,” an EU diplomat who was present said.

Parliament appears to have won the battle with EU states by insisting that consumers should have the freedom to access the Internet enshrined in the body of the reform.

Cutting of Internet access, such as for suspected illegal downloading of copyright material, could only be done with the agreement of an impartial and independent tribunal, as outlined under the European Convention of Human Rights.

The compromise is seen as using broader language than previously and drops a reference to the need for a judicial ruling for cutting off Internet access.

France was seeking to minimise any reference to judicial proceedings for fear it will restrict its planned Hadopi law on copyright protection the French assembly is due to vote on this week.

EU member state ambassadors meet on Wednesday to endorse the deal and France will be under intense pressure to accept it so that parliament can take a final vote next week.

There could still be some opposition from members of the European parliament who may want a stronger wording in a bid to stop the French law altogether. (Editing by Andrew Macdonald)