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European telecoms reform clears final hurdle

The Telecoms Reform Package, which covers topics such as internet freedom, data breach notification and net neutrality, has been passed by the European Parliament
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The Telecoms Reform Package, a large collection of new and updated laws governing Europe's telecoms industry, has been voted through by the European Parliament.

The Parliament's approval, which took place on Tuesday, marked the final stage in the package's passage. The package was previously approved by the Council of Telecoms Ministers on 20 November, after parliamentarians and ministers agreed a compromise on a hotly contested internet freedom amendment that had held up the whole package for months.

Parliamentarians voted through the package with 510 in favour and 40 against.

"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," information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement. "Thanks to the strong support of the European Parliament today, Europe has put citizens in the centre stage in telecoms regulation."

Elements of the package include laws to force organisations to report data breaches, the shortening of the time it takes to move a telephone number from one network to another, and the creation of a pan-European telecoms body called Berec.

The internet freedom provision, which insists that any disconnection of an internet user for unlawfully file-sharing copyrighted material can only occur following a "fair and impartial procedure", will also become law as part of the package.

ISPs will also be prevented from degrading certain types of traffic, such as VoIP — a key requirement of so-called 'net neutrality'. The package also sets out regulation of fibre-based next-generation broadband network deployments, and allows radio spectrum currently used for TV to be used for mobile broadband.

"These are long-awaited reforms which we hope will really deliver a better deal for consumers and businesses," BT's head of government and public affairs, Larry Stone, said in a statement. "BT strongly supports the European Union's drive for a more consistent single market allowing for more competition, innovation and consumer choice in the telecoms sector."

Stone added that BT hoped Berec would "focus on the need for more effective competition in the business services market".

Now that the Telecoms Reform Package has passed all voting stages, it is set to be signed on Wednesday by the presidents of the European Parliament and the Council of Telecoms Ministers. It expected to be published into law on 18 December.

Berec will be formally established in the spring of 2010, and the package will have to be transposed into national law in all EU member states by June 2011.

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