EU citizens to get better broadband and privacy rights

25 Nov 2009

Some 500 million EU citizens will soon benefit from more consumer choice, better coverage with faster internet broadband and from greater rights to privacy, thanks to a telecoms reform package the EU Parliament agreed upon yesterday.

The EU Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday voted to go ahead with the package that will ensure EU citizens benefit from better competition, better quality broadband and from a stronger entrenchment of their right to privacy with regard to telecoms operators.

New rights

European consumers will also enjoy a substantial number of new rights, such as the right to switch fixed or mobile operators in one working day while keeping their number; the right to be better informed about the services they subscribe to; and the right to be informed about data breaches from their telecoms operator.

Operators must also give consumers the option of signing a contract which lasts no longer than 12 months.

Under the new EU rules, national telecoms authorities will furthermore have the power to set minimum quality levels for network transmission services so as to promote “net neutrality” for European citizens.

Telecoms reform

In addition, European consumers will see their fundamental rights regarding internet access reaffirmed and strengthened by the telecoms reform.

A new internet freedom provision, included in the package at the insistence of the European Parliament, makes clear that in view of the fundamental rights that EU citizens enjoy, including the right to privacy, national authorities cannot restrict internet access for public policy reasons unless there has been a prior, fair and impartial procedure and effective and timely judicial review.

The European Parliament’s approval of the reform follows a political agreement reached on 5 November between Parliament, council and commission negotiators that paves the way for the entry into force of the EU telecoms reform in December this year.

Deadline: 18 months

Member States, including Ireland, where broadband competition particularly around Local Loop Unbundling can be considered a market failure, have 18 months to transpose the reformed EU telecoms rules into their national telecoms laws.

“The EU telecoms reform will bring more competition on Europe’s telecoms markets, better and cheaper fixed, mobile and internet services and faster internet connections for all Europeans. Thanks to the strong support of the European Parliament today, Europe has put citizens in the centre stage in telecoms regulation,” said Viviane Reding, the EU’s Telecoms Commissioner.

“It is good news for Europe’s consumers that the new powerful tool of functional separation will help national regulators to address persistent competition bottlenecks in telecoms markets, thereby enhancing consumer choice. I am also grateful that the European Parliament has supported the commission in helping to bring about a more integrated single market in the telecoms field.

“The establishment of the new European Telecoms Body BEREC, the institutional set-up of which has been substantially designed by European Parliamentarians, is a very visible sign that we are serious when we say that Europe’s telecoms operators and consumers should no longer feel national borders in network access and the delivery of communication services. A true single market for Europe’s telecoms operators and consumers is now within reach,” Reding promised.

Sign on the dotted line

The new legislation that will drive the reforms of the new EU telecoms package will be signed by the presidents of the European Parliament and council on 25 November.

The whole telecoms reform package will enter into force with its publication in the European Journal on 18 December.

EU member States will have to transpose the telecoms reform package into national legislation by June 2011.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Viviane Reding, the EU’s Telecoms Commissioner.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years