MEPs at the European Parliament face a backlash from the telecoms industry after voting overwhelmingly in favour of draft legislation that promises net neutrality and eliminates roaming across the continent.
The vote saw 543 in favour of banning internet access providers from blocking or slowing down selected services and ending roaming charges from 15 December 2015.
Just 25 MEPs voted against the proposals while 58 abstained.
Last minute amendments included a promise that internet access providers would still be able to offer specialised services of higher quality, such as video on demand and business-critical data-intensive “cloud” (data storage) applications, so long as these services are not supplied to "the detriment of the availability or quality of internet access services" offered to other companies or service suppliers.
MEPs also shortened the European Commission's list of “exceptional” cases in which internet access providers could still be entitled to block or slow down the internet.
Such practices should be permitted only to enforce a court order, preserve network security or prevent temporary network congestion. If such traffic management measures are used, they must be "transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate" and "not be maintained longer than necessary", MEPs said.
They also amended the text banning roaming charges to say capped charges could exceptionally be imposed if roaming services are “abused”.
EP rapporteur Pilar del Castillo Vera said the vote was “a great step” towards strengthening the telecommunications single market.
A jubilant European Commission VP Neelie Kroes commented: "In 2010 I promised to end roaming charges by the end of 2015, and now we are one step away from achieving that result."
Not everyone is happy, however. The GSMA said the overall package “fails to address the key challenge of stimulating growth and investment”.
Industry body ETNO also said the industry had moved further away from its original objectives.
ETNO Chairman Luigi Gambardella commented: “Today’s vote risks derailing the original objectives of the Connected Continent Regulation, namely a strong European digital industry igniting growth and jobs creation. We are confident that the upcoming work of the EU decision makers will acknowledge such risk and will embrace the spirit of the Commission’s original proposal, confirming that the EU seeks solutions for growth, and not populist measures.”
MEPs elected in May following the next set of European elections will “build on work done during the current term”, the EP said. Final agreement of the regulation is expected by end of this year.
Ovum analyst Matthew Howett said that lobbying efforts will intensify as a result.
He commented: “The question now is whether operators feel they can work within the scope of the regulation to offer the services they plan to – a last minute lobbying effort to remove some of the wording of what constitutes such services suggests not. The fear exists around whether even basic (and generally accepted), forms of traffic management will be permissible under the Commissioner’s vision for an ‘open Internet’.”
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