By Joe McNamee

The European Parliament’s Industry Committee this morning voted to bring an end to the free, open and competitive internet that has brought so much social and economic benefit to European citizens and people around the globe.

In keeping with the intentions behind the European Commission’s initial proposal, the Industry Committee’s text is confused, misleading and contradictory. The outcome is more loophole than law, a cynical exercise that talks about outlawing discrimination while effectively permitting it.

Under the proposals, it will be possible for telecoms companies to prioritise their own online services by simply redefining them as “specialised services”. Telecoms companies would also be able to keep innovative start-ups out of the market by reaching deals with big foreign online monopolies. Ultimately, it permits telecoms companies to restrict access to their customers – essentially creating a new monopoly – the same kind of monopoly that caused high mobile phone charges. If this result is not overturned by the vote of the full European Parliament in two weeks, the result will be a weaker, poorer online environment, to the detriment of European citizens and European innovators. Ultimately, this will become clear to the former monopoly telecoms providers that a poor uncompetitive and uninventive European internet harms them also, but by then it will be too late.

This bad text is partly the result of a headlong rush to ban mobile phone roaming, to generate good headlines before the European Parliament elections. In reality, the text that they adopted on net neutrality is so incoherent that it will take several months for the Council of Ministers to fix it. This means that the ambitious deadline for ending roaming that was approved, which will be the subject of so many triumphant press releases today, will probably not be respected.

In one piece of good news – news that is is a good sign before the final vote of the European Parliament in two weeks – the Industry Committee voted against giving the MEP responsible for this shambles (Pilar Del Castillo, EPP Group, Spain) the power to negotiate the next stage of the legislative process with the Council – she fell one vote short of the 31 she needed for this.