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Ofcom pleads for Telecoms Package to pass

As a net-neutrality amendment threatens to sink the product after years of negotiation, the UK's telecoms regulator calls on all concerned to come to an agreement
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The head of UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has urged European parliamentarians and telecommunications ministers to resolve an argument that has erupted over a raft of new legislation.

At the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA) conference in Brussels on Thursday, chief executive Ed Richard said if the Telecoms Package failed to become law by the end of this year, it would be a "significant blow" to regulatory certainty in Europe.

The Telecoms Package contains potential European laws that have been worked out through intense negotiations over recent years. These include the speeding up of number porting between operators, new guidelines on fibre access deployment and the use of radio spectrum, and the creation of a new pan-European regulatory body, called Berec.

However, despite prior agreement on the package's contents between the European Parliament and Council of Telecoms Ministers, a last-minute amendment was added that enshrined internet access as a fundamental right. The entire package was voted through by parliamentarians, despite the council's known opposition to this clause — meaning the package could be sunk in its entirety.

Richards urged all those concerned to stop the package failing to be passed. He told delegates at the conference there was great frustration over the fact that the package could be derailed by something which emerged relatively late.

"Allowing [the Telecoms Package] to be unpicked will only generate a whole new raft of regulatory uncertainty," Richards said. "A failure to adopt the package before the end of the year would be a significant blow."

The Council of Telecoms Ministers has not yet been formally notified in all official European languages of the parliamentary approval of the package. This must happen by the end of June, after which the council will decide whether to pass the entire package, or send all or part of it into a conciliation process.

The European Commission has taken the view that the contentious amendment — number 138 — is unnecessary because national laws already make it impossible to throw users off the internet without a court order. It believes this was shown by the French constitutional court's recent ruling that president Nicolas Sarkozy's 'three-strikes' law is unenforceable.

The UK government's Digital Britain report, issued last week, also confirmed that extra-judiciary disconnections will not be allowed as a response to the file-sharing of copyrighted content in the UK. Instead, other methods — ranging from letter writing to the blocking or throttling of certain types of traffic — will have to be used by ISPs to discourage their users from breaking intellectual property laws.

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