Europe Agrees Telecoms Reform, But Three-Strikes Still Undecided

Europe’s trio of political institutions reached agreement Monday night on several components of wide-ranging telecoms reforms – but the legality of the proposed “three strikes” proposal to tackle illegal downloads is still unlikely to be settled until May. The European Commission’s media portfolio spokesperson told reporters today the commission, parliament and council had done a deal on plans including the following…

New regulatory powers for EC: The commission, which until now has guided media and telco policy only through recommendations for implementation by member states’ own national regulators, will now get to foist “legally-binding decisions” on the states if their regulators do not implement those recommendations after two years.

EC veto on anti-trust measures The commission wins a veto over remedies national regulators propose to solve practices deemed anti-competitive. Veto will be shared by the commission and a new Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC).

Carriers win right not to split: The commission had wanted incumbent national telecoms networks to separate their infrastructure and other divisions, as the UK’s BT (NYSE: BT) did by creating Openreach in 2005, and force the access unit to offer rivals access to broadband lines. But, after the telcos of countries like Germany and Spain opposed the plan, the commission will only get to force this so-called “functional separation” as an “extraordinary measure”. “Network unbundling is the medicine for a disease Germany does not have,” Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT) said (via Reuters). Via EurActive.

But no agreement was reached on “graduated response”, the kind of measure France plans to introduce to warn, warn, then disconnect downloaders of illegal content through a new enforcement agency. The commission has opposed President Sarkozys policy, which gained momentum during France’s EU presidency last year, and European Parliamentarians earlier amended the EC telecoms reform bill to ensure such agencies seek a court order before disconnecting anyone. But, despite the commission’s support for the amendment, the European Council recently revoked it.

Guy Bono, the French socialist MEP who is the strongest opponent of the three-strikes plans, said in an emailed statement to paidContent:UK: “France and the UK have indeed expressed their desire to remove this amendment do not want a European text that blocks their national initiatives.” In the UK, Lord Carter’s interim Digital Britain report backed giving warnings to illegal downloaders but as yet has no conclusions on enforcements like disconnection. The European Parliament is now expected to see the agreed-upon package in May, and is likely to seek the amendment’s reintroduction.