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By Joe Kirwin
July 19—European Union draft net neutrality regulations will hinder the roll out of next generation mobile phone services, deter investment in high-speed broadband networks and trigger legal challenges, EU-based telecom companies and cable network operators said in statements and interviews July 19 following the close of a consultation period the day before.
Reacting to the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) draft regulations published in June and due to be finalized in September, groups including Cable Europe; the European Telecom Network Operators (ETNO) and the European GSM Association, which represents mobile operators, said the guidelines are too prescriptive and go well beyond the approach outlined in the EU legislation approved in 2015.
“The draft guidelines exceed the mandate attributed to BEREC,” ETNO Spokesman Alessandro Gropelli told Bloomberg BNA. “They are overly prescriptive in their reliance on ex-ante prohibitions. This will pave the way to litigation and legal uncertainty that will deter network investment.”
“From a technical viewpoint we believe that the guidelines are in conflict with the evolving nature of telecom networks,” Gropelli said. “This will not only slow down 5G networks for mobile services but will reduce opportunities for innovation in other sectors such as car manufacturing, e-health and entertainment.”
ETNO members, which include leading European telecom operators Deutsche Telekom AG, Telecom Italia S.p.A. , Telefonica S.A. and Vodaphone Group Plc., outlined the complaints during the BEREC consultation period.
The BEREC implementing regulations are necessary in order to define significant issues left open by compromise EU Telecom Single Market legislation approved in October 2015, two years after being proposed (10 WCRR 7, 11/15/15).The job of providing the technical details needed to ensure harmonized application of the net neutrality rules in all 28 EU member countries was left up to BEREC.
Bridging differences between EU member states and the European Parliament, the compromise agreement allowed for telecom operators to provide dedicated high-speed “fast lanes” for certain specialized services. The agreement also regulates traffic management by telecom operators in certain circumstances and prohibits controversial zero-rating packages for wireless subscribers.
Based on the June 6 draft guidelines, BEREC outlined examples of specialized services that should be allowed for dedicated high-speed networks. These include real-time health services such as remote surgery as well as high-quality voice calling on mobile networks and live broadcasting. As for zero rating, BEREC draft guidelines said any option offered where “all applications are blocked or slowed down once the data cap is reached except for the zero rated application” will be “clearly prohibited.” BEREC outlined seven principles that must be adhered to in cases of short or long-term traffic management by telecom operators.
“On all of the hardest questions, BEREC has reached conclusions that are sensible, pragmatic and true to both the letter and the spirit of the compromise in the regulation,” said Scott Marcus, a former adviser to the U.S. Federal Communication Commission and now a visiting scholar with the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, said in July blog post. “This is true on the specialized service, zero rating and traffic management issue.”
Open internet advocacy groups have given the BEREC a warmer reception than industry groups but also outlined issues they believe must be addressed when BEREC issues its final regulations in September.
“BEREC has done an excellent job and the document represents a significant step towards achieving real net neutrality,” said Joe McNamee, an official with the Brussels-based digital rights advocacy group EDRi. “However the guidelines should be improved to ensure all current services provided via the internet can not be classified as a specialized service. Also more clarification on zero rating is needed when it comes to the services and user's freedom to receive and impart information protected under the regulation.”
McNamee also said that more clarification is needed to ensure that traffic management measures are not discriminatory.
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