EU commissioners clash over proposed net neutrality law

Leaked document shows the justice commissioner is unhappy with the proposals

A new draft law on net neutrality and mobile roaming in Europe has caused conflict between European Union commissioners.

Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes was due to announce the so-called Telecoms Package on Wednesday, but other commissioners debating the proposed new rules on Tuesday raised concerns, particularly with regard to net neutrality. A leaked document from the justice department shows that Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding is highly critical of the proposal.

Commission Spokesman Olivier Bailly said at a Tuesday press briefing that the law would not be presented until Thursday, prompting speculation that the commissioners were struggling to agree on a final text. Later, Commission sources said that an accord had been reached and that the text would be formally adopted on Wednesday after all.

Kroes has repeatedly said that the new law would guarantee net neutrality and an end to blocking or throttling of competing services. However digital rights activists have published leaked drafts of the law that they say shows the opposite. "The sheer number of leaked drafts and documents, including from Kroes' own service, reflects how unhappy some inside the Commission are with the proposals," said EDRi spokesman Joe McNamee.

Meanwhile, just-leaked feedback from the justice department says "such limited possibilities of accessing Internet content and services of their choice would run counter to the stated objectives of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights." However, that feedback is more than a month old and much of the text has been changed since then.

Last week Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesman for digital advocacy group La Quadrature du Net (QdN), accused Kroes of abandoning her promise to protect net neutrality.

The latest leaked draft of the law states: "End-users shall be free to agree to enter into agreements on data volumes, and speeds and general quality characteristics with providers of electronic communications." According to Zimmermann, this is simply another way of saying traffic may be prioritized.

The draft would also allow content providers such as Google or Facebook to strike deals with ISPs for minimum quality of service for their data flows over the Internet so long as this does not "substantially impair" other services. However, this term is not clearly defined.

Once the final text has been presented by Kroes, it will go to the European Parliament for further assessment. Only when the text has been approved by Parliament and the E.U. member states can it become law. QdN is calling on the lawmakers to amend the text to explicitly ban prioritization of Internet services.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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