The committee's report, drafted by Malcolm Harbour (EPP-ED, UK), on electronic communications (fixed and mobile telephony, voice over internet, internet) deals with a review of existing rules on access to networks and services and other rights of users of universal services, notably personal data and protection of privacy. Parliament's political groups had already reached a compromise on certain issues, such as access to the single European emergency number 112, access to electronic communications as a universal service, the number portability, the transparency of tariffs and prices charged and the network neutrality principle.
The aim is to strengthen and improve the rights of consumers who use electronic communications, pointed out Mr Harbour. Users should be able to access lawful content more easily, distribute it or use lawful applications and services of their choice. Consumers' rights to information - before signing a contract - on the tariffs charged and on any restrictions imposed by the operator (for example, limits on access to internet voice communication services or on consumer choice after a mobile phone bought at a special offer price is exchanged) should be significantly strengthened. This report, on users' rights, does not seek to strengthen the provisions on copyright, stressed the rapporteur. Nor will it affect the idea of a universal service, which will soon be the subject of separate legislation.
More information on privacy
Under the text adopted by the EP committee, operators must keep their subscribers informed of any possible restrictions on access, use or distribution of content, services and lawful applications. For example, a mobile phone operator who prevents access to internet voice communications via "smart" telephones would have to specify this at the outset. In addition, access providers would have to warn internet users of the risk of malicious use of their personal data or other illegal practices.
According to the EP Civil Liberties Committee, which is responsible for these matters, it is up to the national authorities to identify any infringements, including breaches of intellectual property rights, then to ask the internet access provider to warn the user. The committee's opinion, drafted by Alexander Alvaro (ALDE, DE) and adopted on 25 June, also calls for the gathering of data from a computer (e.g. setting web browser parameters to accept cookies) to require prior consent from the user.
More transparent and comparable tariffs, making it easier to switch operators
According to the Internal Market Committee report adopted Monday, operators should provide users with transparent, comparable, appropriate and up to date information on prices and tariffs, charges for terminating a contract and general terms and conditions. The aim is to enable end users independently to assess the cost of switching operators. Consumers armed with interactive guides or similar tools should thus be cable to take advantage of the liberalised telecoms market by choosing, in full knowledge of the facts, the operators who best meet their needs. Improving number portability should moreover make it possible to switch operators within a single day.
Making life easier for elderly and handicapped people, extending access to the the emergency number
Since 2002, it has been possible to call the 112 emergency number throughout the EU. MEPs feel that this number should be accessible irrespective of the type of electronic communication used. The emergency services should also have easy access to information needed to locate the caller. Some operators specialising in voice over internet protocol (VOIP) communications have questioned the technical feasibility of such measures, but MEPs felt that the technical constraints are surmountable. All facilities should moreover be entirely accessible to elderly and handicapped people. Users everywhere in the EU should also have access to telephone directory services.
Availability of services and content
The strictest possible application of "network neutrality" would preclude discrimination to do with the use and distribution of internet content, applications or services. The report sets out provisions to do with this principle in order to enhance service quality. The draft directive lists a series of reasons that might justify intervention by a national regulator. These include a decline in standards of service, a slowing of traffic, but also protecting the rights and freedoms of other network users or of operators to diversify their offerings in a competitive market. Any restriction should nonetheless be clearly notified to users and national regulatory authorities should draw up guides for users and operators to define the minimum standard of service supplied.
The vote on the entire telecoms package is scheduled for the first plenary session in September. Internal market Committee members may nonetheless seek a postponement of the plenary vote, given the controversy over personal data protection.