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European Parliament vetoes telecoms reform, demands court order for ISP disconnection

Internet service providers should only be able to disconnect users on the order of a court, the European Parliament has said. The demand has derailed the expected ratification of European telecoms reform at a Parliament session today.06 May 2009

The European Commission had proposed reform of EU telecoms regulation and last week secured the support of member states. Only the Parliament's blessing was required for the new plan to be implemented.

However, the Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of an amendment today, that has blocked the whole deal and sent it back for negotiation between the three governing bodies.

The Parliament amended the proposal's plans on disconnection of internet users for alleged file sharing. France has tried to pass a law allowing for the disconnection of suspected file-sharers after two warnings.

The Commission-backed reform said that users could have access to an independent tribunal if they wanted to contest disconnection. The Parliament's amendment says that disconnection can only occur if ordered by a court.

"No restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end users, without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities … save when public security is threatened," said the amendment. It had been inserted by the Parliament before, but taken out by the Council of Ministers later on in negotiations.

The rest of the reform package was accepted by the Parliament, but no part of it can pass until it all does. A Parliament statement said that the proposal would protect consumer rights.

"The directive will give consumers the right to better information on prices, tariffs and terms and conditions," it said. "Contracts will need to specify the way emergency calls are made and their location traced, any restrictions on access to certain content or types of equipment (for example if VoIP – Voice over Internet Protocol – calls are blocked on mobile phones which otherwise offer internet connections), the applicable legal conditions, the quality parameters of the service, the length of the contract, the prices and rates applied, the types of customer and after-sales service available, payments methods, charges, if any, for transferring a number to another operator or for terminating a contract."

The package also contains an earlier compromise on telecoms regulation. The Commission had wanted a strong EU-wide regulator, but the Parliament won a concession from the Commission that instead there would be a regulatory body made up of the heads of the 27 member states' own regulators.

"MEPs and the Council agree to set up a Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) composed of a board of the heads of the 27 national regulators and a European Commission representative," said the Parliament statement. "As an independent expert advisory body, BEREC will issue opinions and recommendations to help the Commission, and upon request the European Parliament and the Council, to apply the electronic communications regulatory framework effectively and consistently."

"This amendment is an important restatement of the fundamental rights of EU citizens," said Viviane Reding, the EU Telecoms Commissioner. "For many, it is of very high symbolic and political value. I call on the Council of Ministers to assess the situation very carefully … the Telecoms Council on 12 June should be used for a political discussion on whether agreement on the package is still possible or whether the discussion will have to start again with the new European Parliament in autumn."