EP Committees: Broadly positive votes on net neutrality

By EDRi · January 29, 2014

In the last two weeks, the three European Parliament Committees have
adopted their advisory “opinions” on the European Commission’s proposals
on net neutrality – which are part of a wide-ranging Regulation that
also covers topics as varied as roaming and spectrum management. These
opinions are meant to advise the Committee responsible – the Industry
Committee – which will make its decision at the end of February.

Ironically, at the same time as the Commission is proposing to solve the
problem of “roaming” charges, its proposals on net neutrality would
permit internet access providers to create the same problem – but on a
far larger scale – in the internet sector. This is, in essence, what the
net neutrality debate is about.

The three committees that voted last week were Culture and Education,
Internal Market and Consumer Protection and Legal Affairs.

The Culture and Education Committee (led by Petra Kammerevert,
Socialists and Democrats Group, Germany) produced a thorough defence of
net neutrality, with unequivocal support from all political groups. The
Committee also removed the Commission’s proposal to breach the European
Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter of Fundamental
Rights by giving internet access providers the right to interfere with
internet traffic through ad hoc, unjustified, lawless filtering and
blocking to “prevent” (undefined) and “impede”(undefined) “serious”
(undefined) crime. The European Court of Justice in the Scarlet/Sabam
and Scarlet/Netlog cases have already ruled that laws introducing
general monitoring measures are a breach of citizens’ fundamental
rights. The European Commission believes that permitting exactly the
same activities on a voluntary basis by internet companies is somehow
not a breach of the same fundamental rights. Somehow, the Commission
believes that lawless restrictions on fundamental rights is compatible
with Article 52 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which states
that “must be provided for by law”.

The Internal Market and Consumer Committee (led by Malcolm Harbour,
European Conservatives and Reformists Group, UK) produced a broadly
solid text. It took a somewhat more circuitous route than the Culture
Committee. Mr Harbour’s initial set of proposals was very solid,
discussions then took a very negative turn before, ultimately, the
negotiations were brought back on track. On the Commission’s proposed
lawless vigilantism rights for internet companies, the Committee removed
the offending text from the relevant article of the Regulation but,
oddly, left the offending text in the corresponding explanatory
“recital”. The final text, therefore, is somewhat contradictory but
broadly good.

Having requested the right to give an opinion on the proposal, the Legal
Affairs Committee appears to have lost interest in the file. The work
was led by Marielle Gallo (European People’s Party, France). Although Ms
Gallo has always sought to strongly defend the assumed interests of the
creative industries (creators and innovators need an open internet,
without internet companies acting as gatekeepers that grant or remove
permission to communicate to their users), she was somewhat less active
in her support of net neutrality than her colleagues in the Culture
Committee. There were few amendments from other political groups (which
were generally rejected in the vote). As a result, the Legal Affairs
Committee report, while not hugely objectionable, is incomplete.

The only committee left to give an “opinion” is the Civil Liberties
Committee, whose timetable is such that the committee responsible, the
Industry Committee, will not be able to take its position into account.

Now, all attention focuses on the Committee in charge – the Industry
Committee. A good deal of positive amendments have been tabled by all
political groups. However, the Parliamentarian responsible, Pilar Del
Castillo (European People’s Party, Spain), has proposed amendments (and
compromise amendments) which, in some cases, make little sense and often
run counter to many of the amendments tabled by her own political group
colleagues in the Industry Committee and counter to the amendments
strongly supported by her own political group in the other committees.
It remains to be seen whether she will be able to lead her group away
from open networks, competition and innovation.

On the other hand, she has proposed an intelligent and delicately
balanced compromise amendment on the types of interferences that
internet access providers are allowed to make for public policy reasons.
That proposal, while still unwelcome, at least is compatible with the
European primary law. The threat that the Parliament could support the
Commission’s illegal, counterproductive, incoherent text on this subject
appears now to be minimal.

Infographic on the parliamentary process (20.01.2014)

EDRi’s campaign page

European Commission’s proposal – Connected Continent: a single telecom
market for growth & jobs

(Contribution by Joe McNamee – EDRi)