Open-source bias cheered, booed in planned EC rules review

New EC rules would recognize more standards bodies by the public sector

Industry groups criticized and praised on Monday what they consider is a bias in favor of open-source software in the European Commission's plans to update the rules governing industry standard technologies.

The Commission set out a plan for a complete makeover of the rules last week, a move it said was essential if European information and communication technology (ICT) is to remain relevant and globally competitive.

Currently, government bodies are limited in their choice of ICT suppliers to ones that are registered with a short list of recognized standards organizations, including ISO, the International Standards Organization, its European equivalents the ESOs and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The private sector has moved beyond this short list. Fora and consortia such as the W3C, OASIS and ECMA are all standards organizations and are widely recognized in the industry, but they cannot be referenced when a firm bids for a public sector contract, or when an authority is setting public policy.

The reforms proposed in the Commission's white paper "should improve the possibilities to use and reference E.U. recognised standards in legislation and public procurement," the Commission said in a statement.

Open Forum Europe (OFE), an industry group that takes a pro-open-source view, welcomed the move.

"Strengthening collaboration and cooperation in ICT standards development, both Europe-wide and globally is crucial," it said in a statement issued Monday.

The Commission "recognises the importance of global open standards as well as important Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) concerns like transparency through mandatory ex ante declaration of licensing terms and royalty free licensing to enhance software interoperability," OFE said.

Open standards, stimulating global standard setting and standardization based on openness criteria across domains "can help usher Europe into a new era of competitiveness and growth," said OFE's chief executive, Graham Taylor.

According to the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), the emphasis on open standards in the Commission's white paper amounts to a bias in favor of open-source software.

In a statement, it said it is "concerned that the policy framework suggested in the White Paper seems to favour open source software over proprietary software to achieve more interoperability."

"Our key policy objective should be the removal of systemic bias, not its introduction," said ACT President Jonathan Zuck.

Without decisive action, the E.U. will fail to master the information society and will not reach a number of important European policy goals that require interoperability such as e-health, accessibility, security, e-business, e-government and transport, the Commission said in its statement last week.

It added that if the rules aren't updated, the E.U. will be in a weaker position to influence an ongoing and global debate about international standards for personal data protection.

The Commission has launched a consultation with the ICT industry, standards bodies and consumer groups that closes on Sept. 15.

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