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Procedure : 2011/2866(RSP)
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Texts tabled :

B7-0572/2011

Debates :

PV 16/11/2011 - 12
CRE 16/11/2011 - 12

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OJ 17/11/2011 - 86
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P7_TA(2011)0511

Debates
Wednesday, 16 November 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12. The open Internet and net neutrality in Europe (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. − The next item is the debate on

– the oral question to the Council on the open internet and net neutrality in Europe by Herbert Reul, on behalf of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (O-000243/2011 – B7-0641/2011), and

– the oral question to the Commission on the open internet and net neutrality in Europe by Malcolm Harbour, Andreas Schwab, Evelyne Gebhardt, Jürgen Creutzmann, Heide Rühle, Adam Bielan, Cornelis de Jong, on behalf of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (O-000261/2011 – B7-0653/2011).

 
  
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  Herbert Reul, author. (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, net neutrality is the description of the neutral transfer that we want to see on the Internet, irrespective of origin and the content being sent. This is currently the case.

However, we have an obvious problem in that the global data volume will, according to estimates, potentially quadruple to 767 exabytes by 2014, and fixed network data traffic will increase by 35% a year and mobile data traffic by 107% a year. It will become congested on the data highways, and temporary overloads and blockages may result in a loss of quality.

That means, firstly, that the networks urgently need to be expanded. This Parliament has already taken many initiatives in this regard, most recently under the leadership of Mr Hökmark. We have a problem in connection with the expansion of the networks that also results from the fact that telecommunications companies pay for the expansion of the network, but Internet service providers pay nothing towards this. That is part of the reason why a debate has now been taking place over the last few years where it is increasingly being asked: are there now particular responses by operators that allow restrictions to be implemented in the network? The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) carried out a corresponding study among its members at the beginning of 2010 and discovered that certain operators do not always handle all data equally – in other words in connection with limiting speed, collection or blocking or the collection of additional fees, to give a few examples.

At European level there is – and this is where the debate currently stands – no fixed uniform definition of what net neutrality is. The principle applies that end users must be able to call up and disseminate information or use any particular applications and services. That has also been laid down in everything that we have so far adopted here, for example in the framework directive of 2002 and also in the telecommunications reform package from 2009. That was a very difficult negotiation. Ms Trautmann will remember this well. Here, too, the Commission once again made it clear that keeping the open and neutral nature of the Internet is extremely important and that net neutrality must be retained. It stated that this is a political objective that should also be stipulated by the national regulatory authorities.

The issue at hand that we have been giving our attention to – and that is also the reason why not only the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, but also the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection is currently looking at this issue – is the fact that, in individual Member States, we are already seeing reactions to this and legislative decisions already exist. On the other hand, there is the study by BEREC and the Commission has the additional task of examining the data once again in more detail in order to determine what problems exist and where they lie. Overall, the Commission is clearly of the opinion that no major problems exist.

In view of the fact that the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council will meet in December, we are of the opinion that we as Parliament must consider this matter in advance of this, and we have therefore brought the matter up here in connection with the debate on the task of the Member States to implement the provisions of the Telecoms Package by 25 May 2011. Two questions need to be answered by the Council. We would like to know what impact the Council thinks this reform package from 2009 will have in terms of guaranteeing an open Internet and net neutrality in Europe and how the Council intends to ensure a common approach in respect of the open Internet and net neutrality throughout the EU.

For us as a committee it is important that we are of the opinion that there needs to be a common European basis here, that we cannot have a fragmented space and that we must therefore assess, analyse and then also draw the necessary conclusions from the situation, where necessary. We will be receiving a document from the Commission and we are now waiting for the answers to our questions.

 
  
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  Malcolm Harbour, author. Madam President, it is a privilege to be working once again with my distinguished colleagues on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, because we had a very fruitful partnership in the reform of the telecoms package. I am very pleased that Mrs Trautmann and Mrs Pilar del Castillo Vera, who were jointly, with me, the three rapporteurs on the Telecoms Directive – sometimes rather unkindly known as the three musketeers for some reason – are together again and addressing this issue.

My colleagues will remember that, from the side of the consumers’ and users’ rights reforms, together with the basic principles in the framework directive we spent a huge amount of time and energy crafting amendments to the existing telecoms framework to deal with some of the potential issues that might arise in a framework in which broadband speeds, access to much greater bandwidth of communications and ability to offer different ranges and types of services on the Internet might bring about the sort of anti-competitive behaviour which would restrict the rights of consumers to access and distribute content and services of their choice.

That indeed was the fundamental piece that was introduced into the framework directive itself. It is worth just recalling that – that ability of end users to access and distribute information and to run applications and services of their choice is absolutely at the heart of this whole debate about so-called net neutrality and the choices that were put on the table.

The Commission, at our invitation, has been following this very closely, but of course my fellow chairman, Herbert Reul, is quite right in saying that the test at the moment is to see how the reforms that we put in place in the Telecoms Package are actually working out in practice.

What were the issues that were put on the table to deal with ensuring that this open character of the Internet is maintained and continues to be delivered?

First of all there was the whole principle of ensuring competition – giving consumers choice of services, but above all actually being able to switch providers if they did not like the types of services that were on offer or indeed any restrictions that might be placed on access to certain types of services. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with having offers that may be limited in choice at a lower price, provided that consumers know what they are getting. That is the crucial point here. So within the universal service and users’ rights element we ensured that the ability to switch easily – and particularly if it was a voice service to take your number or indeed your internet address very speedily and quickly within one day – was enshrined within that.

Secondly, the transparency of the offers that consumers are getting is absolutely fundamental. The Commission has been consulting about, and a number of regulators have been looking at, the whole issue of what the actual advertised delivery speed of one’s connection is, what the management measures are and what service providers are doing to deal with times where there may be limitations of capacity in times of network overload. That applies particularly to mobile operators – as many of us will know.

That transparency of contract terms is a fundamental requirement of the telecoms package and we have asked the Commission to make sure that, in every country, regulators are enforcing those transparency and information requirements alongside the switching aspect.

Finally, in terms of what we put in – and colleagues will remember the famous Article 21 of the reform on the Users’ Rights Directive – we have actually given regulators, for the first time, the ability to intervene in the marketplace if they see that an operator is actively discriminating against a content carried on its networks that competes with content of its own. In other words, if an operator actually artificially degrades the quality of service provision for a particular service where it is providing a competing service. I think we would all agree that this is absolutely unacceptable. That is clearly discriminatory behaviour as regards quality of service on the Internet and undermines the whole principle of net neutrality.

We have given the regulators those powers and they are invited to use them. Of course, one of the major achievements of the telecoms package was to have a body of European regulators – the BEREC that was in Mrs del Castillo Vera’s proposal – and they are the people whose job it is to ensure that that is being carried out.

There is a lot on the table. This is a good report and a good resolution, but the proof of the pudding will be in the implementation of what we have asked for.

 
  
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  Magdalena Gaj, President-in-Office of the Council. (PL) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, to begin with, I would like to thank both committees and both Chairs, Mr Reul and Mr Harbour, for the questions. It is extraordinarily important for us to be able to have this discussion today on the 2009 Telecoms Package, and in particular on the key issues of the open Internet and the principle of net neutrality. These issues are extremely important, particularly today, when the Internet and all information and communication tools have become the engine driving our economy and might perhaps be among the tools that will help Europe, or even the whole world, to overcome the crisis. In my opinion, the success of the Internet is a success achieved through openness and the opportunity for each of our citizens to use it in a simple, straightforward and clear way. That is why this discussion is of particular importance, in my view, as the President-in-Office of the Council.

Regarding the first part of the question relating to the assessment of the implementation of this package in the Member States, I would first of all like to point out that we are all aware of the fact that since the adoption of the new EU legislation on telecommunications in November 2009, the national regulatory authorities have been required to promote access to information and the use of selected applications and services among end users. The promotion of these opportunities is achieved by supporting the requirements for transparency of the information provided to subscribers. Moreover, national regulatory authorities have also been granted a very important right to set the minimum requirements with regard to the quality of services. The Member States recognise the importance of the effective implementation of these requirements while maintaining the open nature of the Internet and guaranteeing the general availability of a stable Internet. The Member States are also aware of some concerns as regards discriminatory forms of management and handling of data, transparency of prices and quality of services, both in the network, and with regard to the protection of personal data. The Member States therefore underline the importance of providing consumers with transparent information so as to enable everyone to make a conscious choice, whether they choose a limited service, or a full service at a different price – the consumer must, however, be aware of the service which is to be provided. Furthermore, the Member States emphasise the need to address the issues of discrimination and deterioration of service quality, which may be the result of certain practices in the management of traffic in the network. In connection with this, the Council stresses the important role of BEREC and of the European Commission, together with national regulatory authorities in the field of market analysis and assessment of the conformity of the operators’ activities with the rules of the regulatory framework.

What has happened so far? Of course, we know that not all Member States have implemented the package yet – we need to remember that there are several extensive directives that require profound analysis, and these implementation processes are coming to an end in each Member State. However, the introduction of the principle of net neutrality, and of all of the transparency requirements, has already caused great debates in various Member States. Such debates were held for example in Poland, or in France – debates involving market participants and the participants in the Internet chain, namely telecommunication operators, content providers, and individual market participants, and these debates make it possible that in the not too distant future we will also be able to discuss partial self-regulation, which is very important. Thus, these regulations are already beginning to function.

In respect of the second part of the question, I would like to point out that the Council, noting the need for a uniform approach to this matter, has prepared its conclusions to the Commission’s communication on the open Internet and net neutrality. Therefore, during the next meeting of the Council of Ministers on 13 December 2011, we will adopt these Council conclusions, and I think that it will provide a common approach to this topic, which is linked to the amended regulatory framework. The Council welcomes the Commission’s commitment to monitor the process of implementing the EU’s regulatory framework as well as its readiness to examine further those aspects of net neutrality, which are associated with significant and persistent problems, and urges the Commission and BEREC to monitor current practices, in order to eliminate cases of poor traffic management. If traffic management is already in place, it should be done with due regard to proportionality, transparency and the provision of smooth transfer, and guarantee price transparency and service-quality requirements which do not affect net neutrality.

In its conclusions, the Council supports the Commission’s stated intention to assess the need for publishing additional guidance or adopting further regulations, on the basis of data derived from the BEREC study. Should such a necessity arise, these documents will be prepared, and the Council will deal with these documents in accordance with the legislative competences to which it is entitled. I apologise for exceeding my time limit. Thank you very much.

 
  
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  Karel De Gucht, Member of the Commission. Madam President, I am pleased to be here to respond on behalf of the Commission in the absence of Neelie Kroes, who has had to go to Warsaw.

Open internet is an issue that affects every one of us and is increasingly an economic essential. The Commission has stressed on several occasions the importance of having an open internet, accessible to everyone, from the innovators who provide content, to those who use it.

The Commission thinks that the best way to deliver an open internet is through competitive markets. But for competition to work properly, consumers need to make informed choices, and to know exactly what service they are getting. They also need to be able to switch operators easily and quickly.

The new telecoms rules approved in 2009 specifically require operators to be transparent about the service they offer and the traffic management techniques they apply. They also help their consumers to switch operator, in particular by improving number portability procedures and conditions for contract subscription and termination. If needed, they empower national regulators to set minimum quality of service requirements.

These rules, which had to be implemented by May this year, have not yet been fully transposed in all Member States. The Commission is vigilantly monitoring their implementation. This will allow us to ensure that open and neutral internet principles are respected in practice.

In addition, the Commission has asked the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), in which all the Member States’ telecoms regulators are represented, to undertake a rigorous fact-finding exercise on these issues, including barriers to changing operators, blocking or throttling of internet traffic, voice over internet services, transparency and quality of service.

We need to know what the situation is: whether customers really do know what service they are signing up to, whether throttling and blocking are really common practices and what the impact is on the service quality delivered to the end-user. We also want to make sure that consumers can switch providers easily, if they do not like the service they are getting.

In parallel, BEREC is working on guidance and transparency. It is working on a framework for net neutrality and quality of service, which looks specifically into how to use minimum quality of service requirements as specified in Article 22 (3) of the Universal Service Directive. It is also working on the competition issues relating to net neutrality.

Building on BEREC’s and any industry’s inputs and based on its own analysis, the Commission will decide whether additional guidance or more stringent measures regarding open internet and net neutrality are necessary – and by the way, as the Council has rightly stated, we will make public BEREC’s findings.

It is very important that we have the facts and figures before acting. If we do need to act, we must do so in a coordinated way across Europe. I would therefore urge national regulators to collaborate with their peers and the Commission when considering regulatory action in this area, and to act on the basis of facts.

At this stage, I cannot yet tell Members yet whether the Commission will develop additional guidance or general legislative measures to enhance competition and consumer choice, such as by further facilitating consumer switching. However, we are very confident we will receive all the necessary input to make an informed decision. The House can be sure that any proposal in this area will be subject to an in-depth assessment of their impact, including on fundamental rights.

Much is at stake in the area of open internet and net neutrality. The Commission wants to make sure that sound policy initiatives are developed that help deliver the objectives of the Digital Agenda for Europe.

 
  
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  Lambert van Nistelrooij, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (NL) Madam President, representatives of the Council and the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) has put net neutrality at the heart of its policy as a key principle and supported it in the 2009 telecoms package. In so doing, we wanted to stimulate innovation and increase the number of Internet services. Even in these times of crisis, this is working exceptionally well. The number of jobs is increasing vigorously and this is a true growth sector, possibly even the largest growth sector in Europe. Broadband opens up a new world, a world of jobs for citizens, for businesses and for governments. In this case, fun and function emphatically do go hand in hand.

Now we come to implementation in the Member States. There are network managers that really do block new service providers and give them unnecessarily high bills. This has also happened in the Netherlands. Mr Reul just gave us other examples, too. Skype and WhatsApp, for example, were impeded. For that reason, a supplementary legislative proposal is in preparation in the Netherlands. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but we cannot allow the situation to develop where every country develops its own legislation so that ultimately we end up surrendering again when it comes to a single Internet space for Europe. The added value of the single digital area, an open Internet, is something that, for us, is beyond dispute.

Finally, both committees are now sending a signal to the Member States to be clear when it comes to implementation. Secondly, for us, for the PPE Group, new regulation need not be the answer if more focused implementation can actually be achieved. In principle we support net neutrality, we have high expectations when it comes to innovations and jobs. That is what this is about for us.

 
  
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  Catherine Trautmann, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, Minister, ladies and gentlemen, during the negotiations on the telecoms package, the European Parliament already advocated the need to respect the Internet’s neutrality.

Transparency on how traffic is managed in times of network overload and a minimum quality of service are basic requirements, but the persistent blocking of Internet content, as was just mentioned, or applications shows that these requirements are not enough. Let us therefore remember the essential nature of the Internet for fundamental rights and media pluralism and the need to ensure the confidentiality of communications and people’s private lives.

Telecoms operators can contribute to economic recovery. They must be given the opportunity to innovate and invest in the development of new services, but the quality of basic Internet services, with which we are familiar, must not under any circumstances be allowed to decline in favour of paid services.

We oppose the creation of a two-speed Internet which would be discriminatory for the most modest-income households, who are already hard-hit by the crisis.

Finally, if the findings of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) require it, we would ask the Commission to assume its responsibilities and produce a binding text which ensures the Internet’s neutrality.

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Madam President, without a shadow of doubt, the Internet has radically changed our societies and our lives and has been a driver for competitiveness, innovation and economic growth in Europe over the past years. It has boosted cross-border trade through e-commerce, contributing to the development of the internal market, and it has allowed for the development of online services to the benefit of European consumers.

What we have achieved so far has been possible to a large extent thanks to the openness of the Internet. We should continue on this path and take all necessary measures to preserve the open internet, which will help us further develop the digital single market.

Of course, traffic management is necessary in order to be able to provide an adequate quality for different services. But this should not be a pretext for anti-competitive practices such as blocking, throttling and so on. We have all witnessed cases where mobile Voice-through-IP services have been blocked. I therefore call on the Commission, BEREC and the national regulatory authorities (NRAs) to closely monitor traffic management measures, especially for mobile internet, and take the necessary measures where anti-competitive behaviour is proved.

In my view, the revised telecoms framework agreed in 2009 provides the necessary safeguards against such anti-competitive practices, but we probably need more active NRAs, which use their prerogatives to set minimum quality-of-service requirements.

Potential abuse in traffic management can be harmful to competition and can also affect freedom of expression and the freedom to conduct business, which are of the utmost importance. Consumers should also be more effectively protected against misleading advertising, namely on the speed of the Internet. I believe that some additional guidelines from the Commission on these questions could help Member States to better apply EU legislation and would enable consumers and businesses to profit from the open internet.

 
  
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  Philippe Lamberts, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (FR) Madam President, I remain somewhat astounded by the fact that although we are in Europe, with respect to telecoms, we are acting as though we were the sum of 27 micro-markets. We saw this on the radio spectrum issue with Gunnar Hökmark and we are seeing it on the roaming issue with Angelika Niebler. We still do not have a single European market even though, quite frankly, for telecoms – I stress this is telecommunications we are talking about – this is clearly the level at which we should be working, including for legislation.

It is true, as Mr van Nistelrooij said, that the Netherlands are taking an initiative to protect the web’s neutrality. I will not re-emphasise how important this issue is for us and I will probably not share the conclusions of this Dutch initiative. It is certainly important for the European Union to take an initiative on this.

This initiative would avoid us ending up with 27 different pieces of legislation all aimed at protecting a shared resource that, I believe, is of importance to all of us in this Parliament, 27 different pieces of legislation which would give network operators so many opportunities to bypass rules by exploiting the differences in regulatory arbitration between one country and another. Therefore, I personally will support the idea of a European legislative initiative that would help to avoid this situation.

I would like to tell the Presidency that, when I hear talk of self-regulation, even if it is just partial self-regulation, it makes me extremely angry, because when we see the extent of market operators’ concern for public good – we can cite the banking sector as an example here, but also telecoms operators – I would definitely not put my trust in them.

 
  
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  Adam Bielan, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (PL) Madam President, I welcome the Commission’s communication on the need to maintain the open nature of the Internet and its neutrality as the main driving force of innovation. At the same time, care must be taken to ensure the high quality of Internet services based on intellectual property rights, the freedom of expression and the freedom of establishment.

The speed and security of data transmitted and the quality of these services is inseparably linked with access to the Internet. The difference between declared and actual connection speeds has become a permanent problem. Consumers must therefore be able to make decisions about selecting a service provider on the basis of clear-cut rules, and also be able to switch to a supplier who will best suit their preferences. It is therefore necessary for the Commission to publish guidelines on the right to change operators. I am also counting on the Commission launching a broad forum for debate on the future of the Internet in the Union, and on it keeping Parliament informed about matters of day-to-day management of information flow, the market for interconnections and network congestion.

 
  
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  Marisa Matias, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(PT) Madam President, Internet access should today be considered a fundamental right for citizens, and not merely an object of commerce. Many essentials are dependent on this right, such as freedom of expression, access to and sharing of information, access to and sharing of culture and knowledge, and democratic and media plurality.

It is for this reason that Internet access cannot be subjected to speculative tariffs or contracts which block free choice and the possibility of changing provider, particularly in the world of mobile telecommunications, as we know so well.

Active citizenship therefore requires that complete and transparent information be provided. Blocking free Internet usage is not exclusive to political regimes which fear their people. It can also occur as a result of economic choices, through the offer of privileges to special customers and a less equal treatment of customers that are not so profitable.

For these reasons I support Parliament when it positions itself on the side of Internet neutrality and the defence of its total openness.

 
  
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  Juozas Imbrasas, on behalf on the EFD Group. (LT) Madam President, in the Digital Agenda for Europe broadband and the Internet are particularly important drivers for economic growth, job creation and enhancing European competitiveness at global level. Furthermore, Europe will only be able to fully exploit the potential of the digital economy once a well-functioning internal market is established in this area. I believe that transparency, the quality of services and ease of switching operators are preconditions for net neutrality, and also guarantee freedom of choice for end consumers. It is important to stress that we need to safeguard an open Internet and at the same time provide high quality services, in accordance with legislation which would promote and respect fundamental rights, such as intellectual property rights, free speech and the freedom to conduct business. We must eliminate the obstacles people face when they try to switch operators, end the practices of blocking and throttling and the discrimination operated by the dominant market players.

 
  
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  Angelika Niebler (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, I am sure we all agree that our objective is an open, fair Internet. That has already been mentioned by many fellow Members. We need this not only for our citizens, for users of the network and for the economy – the Commission mentioned this – but we also need it for our policies and for democratisation processes. I need only remind you of the Arab Spring. We would not have been able to find out about many of the developments in the North African states and in the Middle East if it had not been for the Internet.

How will we achieve this? I would like to refer to what Mr van Nistelrooij said. The Netherlands has gone ahead with a regulation on net neutrality. That is – please forgive me, Mr van Nistelrooij – the wrong approach to take. I think it is important for us to take a genuine European approach here, for us not to propose 27 separate regulations in this regard, but at least in Europe to seek to take a unified, harmonised approach to this issue. Therefore, I would, above all, ask the Commission, after careful analysis of the facts and with the involvement of BEREC and the national regulators, to present a proposal as quickly as possible. In one sub-area – roaming – we are currently having this debate. Structural changes are already underway in this area in connection with switching operators. I believe that this is the right course to take. Perhaps we do not need any horizontal regulation of net neutrality at all. Roaming provides a good example here.

I would like to make one final point. As I see it, the most important thing for our citizens at home is that there should be no misleading advertising in respect of fast transmission rates. Many providers entice customers with offers that promise extremely fast data transmission speeds. However, these offers can only be exploited at three o’clock on the morning. At other times, the transmission rates do not reach anywhere near the speeds frequently promised in the advertisements. I would be grateful – to you, too, Ms Gaj – if you could check once again with BEREC and get back to us as to whether the subject of ‘no misleading advertising in respect of fast transmission rates’ is also being addressed.

 
  
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  Marita Ulvskog (S&D). - (SV) Madam President, net neutrality can, in simple terms, be described as a question of freedom. Complete freedom for the market and its players often entails the risk that there will be less freedom for users and consumers. For that reason, net neutrality was extremely important in the negotiations on the telecoms package, and that is why it was also one of the decisive questions put to Ms Kroes when she was questioned by Parliament in relation to her candidacy for the post of Commissioner. In light of this, possible hints of partial self-regulation or the very weak answer from the Commissioner are clearly insufficient.

My request is therefore that she should come back with precise answers to a serious question from the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. The question is an important one, not only for the committee, but also for very many citizens of the EU. Therefore, please also come back with the precise binding texts that Ms Trautmann requested.

 
  
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  Alexander Alvaro (ALDE).(DE) Madam President, the Internet is based on two essential pillars, namely openness and transparency, and if, when he invented the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee had not deliberately chosen not to patent HTML and HTTP, we would probably not have an open Internet. However, by making the decisions that he did, he laid the foundation for the idea of a free and open Internet.

The second pillar is the question of transparency. A popular acronym on the Internet is WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get – and that needs to apply just as much to providers, too. It is good to hear that we are all in agreement here as regards the principle that the Internet does not belong to anyone, or to put in another way, the Internet belongs to all of us. This makes the question of net neutrality crucial for ensuring that the Internet continues to be available to those who develop ideas, are creative or simply want to participate in society.

In conclusion, however, I have to say that there is one thing that surprised me. The Council’s document of 7 November states:

wysiwyg – what you see is what you get.

(DE) Previously, instead of the word ‘considers’, the word ‘enshrines’ was used. Perhaps the Council could explain to us why that has been changed.

 
  
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  Sandrine Bélier (Verts/ALE).(FR) Madam President, this European Parliament resolution on the neutrality of the Internet shows our capacity to play a concrete role in the transformation from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy. Ensuring that fundamental rights are respected in this new economy is crucial from all points of view.

We are therefore delighted with the spirit of this resolution, which considers the Internet as a new area of democracy and which points out the importance of ensuring respect for fundamental rights related to or dependent on the web’s neutrality, such as freedom of expression, the protection of private data and media pluralism. It also highlights the importance of ensuring respect for values such as the sharing of and access to knowledge for the greatest number of people and of allowing no exceptions in the application of legal proceedings that enforce the respect of these rights.

We hope that this resolution will lead us towards the recognition and enshrinement of the right to Internet access in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Finally, we also hope that this resolution will find support within the Commission and the Council so as to strengthen the European regulatory framework, and in particular, its application in all of the Member States to truly ensure an open and free Internet for every European citizen.

 
  
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  Paweł Robert Kowal (ECR). (PL) Madam President, as with many areas of life, there are certain risks associated with the Internet, and this is obvious for those who speak today. This applies both to intellectual property rights and other kinds of crimes.

The fundamental issue is to realise what the Internet is today, to look around in the world. Today, the Internet is a place for equalising opportunities; today the Internet is the place where the real fight for democracy takes place. Thanks to the Internet the world is changing before our eyes, North Africa is changing – let us not forget about this. Therefore, these fundamental things – free, unhindered access to high-quality Internet, so that the Internet, which was meant to help equalise opportunities, does not become the new cause of social divisions, and so that what was meant to become an impetus for democratisation does not lead to certain restrictions being placed on freedom. Thus, it must stated very clearly today that the choice regarding the contents and the use of the Internet should lie always and exclusively with the recipient.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MIGUEL ANGEL MARTÍNEZ MARTÍNEZ
Vice-President

 
  
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  Pilar del Castillo Vera (PPE).(ES) Mr President, Commissioner, President-in-Office of the Council, we are faced with one of the issues that forms the basis for the success of the Internet, namely the competitive nature and neutral character of the network. In this sense, everything that is related to that aspect is extremely important.

I would say that the resolution we are proposing and debating this afternoon is, without a doubt, particularly balanced. It is in accordance with the Commission, in the sense that, when information exists that gives us an indication that a change is occurring to the neutral character of the network, then that would be the moment to propose some kind of legislative action, but that, in the meantime, it is necessary to wait to see what is contained in the report from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications.

I would like to add something else: there are three conditions sine qua non, which, in my view, are essential for guaranteeing neutrality on the network. Firstly, there needs to be a truly competitive market for service and telecommunications operators.

Secondly, the user needs to be able to change supplier quickly and easily. Otherwise, without a doubt, the market will be very weak from a competitive point of view.

Third is transparency. Transparency means, however, that users must be properly informed of all the criteria used by network operators, so that they can really know whether or not they are of interest to them or, on the contrary, whether or not it is of interest to them to switch supplier, as was previously commented.

 
  
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  Patrizia Toia (S&D).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Internet applications and services still have great potential both for the economy and for a more informed and inclusive society. Now that the telecoms package is being transposed into national legislation, there is a risk that the European framework may become fragmented. The Commission’s monitoring role will therefore be important. I would also say that the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) will have an important part to play, and some of us would have liked it to have been stronger during the drafting of the telecoms package as well.

The priorities that we want to emphasise in this debate are: a guarantee of net neutrality, development of broadband infrastructure and of more open software, security of access and interoperability of systems, promotion of the use of digital technologies throughout industry and the services sector, production of digital content and new services, inclusion of people who are currently excluded – I am thinking of people with disabilities, amongst others – and support for pluralism in information provision and culture.

It should also be laid down and guaranteed that operators cannot adopt blocking or throttling practices or discriminate against users and that they should ensure the utmost transparency in their commercial offers and in all their business activities.

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake (ALDE). - Mr President, the Internet was created with no specific use in mind other than the efficient transfer of information. Over the last 20 years, the Internet and technology have developed at an extremely rapid pace, giving rise to huge economic and social benefits. The key driver of this unprecedented innovation has been that all information flows and services are treated more or less equally, conforming with the principle of net neutrality.

Recently, a major telecoms provider in the Netherlands bragged to shareholders about its throttling of the voice over IP and messaging services that directly compete with its core business of selling text messages and calling minutes. Within hours it became known that all major providers in the Netherlands did the same. The Dutch Parliament was quick to react and legally ensured net neutrality. It is not the job of governments to protect certain business models, and the Dutch minister said that the company had clearly overplayed its hand.

Consumers pay too much, and transparency clearly has not worked in practice. I do not imagine that Dutch telecom providers are the only ones guilty of these practices, and we need to ensure that there is an EU-wide level playing field.

The research by BEREC will show what is happening, and perhaps the Dutch example can serve as an EU-wide example. In any case, the wait-and-see approach of the Commission with regard to net neutrality is hurting consumers, innovation, competition and society as a whole.

Transparency from providers and the ability for consumers to switch easily between providers are not enough on their own, and deep-packet traffic inspection methods are threatening fundamental rights.

 
  
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  Gunnar Hökmark (PPE). - Mr President, the open internet and net neutrality have been a precondition for the rapid change in development of the Internet and change in our societies. This should be underlined because, if we are to have the same rapid change in the future, we need to ensure that Europe can be the home of innovative development in internet and broadband services.

I get a little bit worried when I hear the Swedish representative of the Socialist Group calling for some sort of regulation because, if the Internet had been regulated ten years ago, we would not have seen the same development of new services as we have seen.

The impact and strength of the Internet lie in its freedom, as we have seen in other parts of the world, and as we can see from the change in our own European Union, with all the opportunities this has created for citizens.

Net neutrality offers us the opportunity to create a digital single market – not 27 different markets, but an open market – where we can get rid of such things as international roaming in the European Union, and where we can ensure that network congestion is dealt with by increasing capacity. We can develop new and better kinds of broadband, as we have done together with the Polish Presidency. We can ensure that we lead the world in mobile data traffic.

That is the way we shall face the future and that is the way we shall ensure net neutrality and a free and open internet: not by regulating but by being open to new innovations, because then Europe can take the lead.

 
  
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  Petra Kammerevert (S&D).(DE) Mr President, an open Internet and the guarantee of non-discriminatory access for everyone are essential prerequisites for the freedom of communication, the freedom of information, media pluralism and diversity of opinion.

We are therefore sending an important and appropriate signal to the Commission and also to the Member States that we want the ‘best effort’ principle as well as fundamental transparency regulations to be laid down. However, I would have liked us to call on the Commission today to clearly define net neutrality and to enshrine it in law. If we wait any longer, we run the risk that network operators will create a version of reality that will be very difficult to put right later on.

I would also have liked to have seen a very clear ban on the control of the content of data packets. I would have liked the back door that this resolution leaves open to be closed today, and from the discussion, I sense that many fellow Members agree with me here. I believe that we should continue to work on this.

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the resolution that is on the table, and on which the Commission has commented, has put some very specific questions to the European Commission, but up to now we have taken a relatively general approach to this matter. Obviously, it is to be welcomed that the European Commission wishes to carry out a fact-finding exercise with regard to the open Internet in order to ensure transparency and openness, but Parliament will certainly look very closely to see whether it should stop there or whether legislation or other measures might be necessary in one or more areas.

As regards the openness and transparency of the Internet, we have already made a good deal of progress in the European Union, although we have to say that there are some Member States that are lagging behind somewhat in the distribution of the infrastructure.

With regard to the open Internet, I believe that we need to attach importance to preserving openness in such a way that efficient access is actually increased in rural areas and valuable telecommunications services are guaranteed, and, in light of this, I particularly welcome the communication from Commissioner Kroes in this area, because otherwise openness will simply become a principle that does not apply everywhere in Europe.

Secondly, transparency will certainly not be created simply by the European Commission carrying out fact-finding exercises. Mr Harbour pointed out that the Universal Service Directive confers basic rights on consumers in various areas. Only through these rights is effective competition possible in order to achieve greater transparency through information, in particular in the area of data flow.

Protection of intellectual property rights must not be forgotten here. This enables European consumers to benefit from affordable prices, informed choices and the option of switching providers, as well as high-quality services. I believe that we need to try to formulate these principles in a uniform way in the European Union. In order to do this, it would be good if the European Commission not only examined the facts with regard to the Internet, but also looked to see what measures the Member States are taking.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the open Internet and net neutrality in Europe are priorities for establishing the digital single market. The Internet must provide high-quality services within a framework that also promotes respect for fundamental rights. We urge the Commission to ensure that Internet service providers do not block, discriminate against, impair or degrade the ability of any person to use a service and access, use, send, post, receive or offer any legal content, application or service of their choice, irrespective of source or target.

We call on the Commission to provide Parliament with information on current traffic-management practices, the interconnection market and network congestion. We urge the Commission to monitor closely the adoption of any national regulations on net neutrality, in terms of their effects on both the internal market and national markets. We think that effective competition in electronic communication services, transparent traffic management and quality of service, as well as the option to switch providers easily are the minimum prerequisites for net neutrality.

 
  
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  Ivailo Kalfin (S&D).(BG) Mr President, I want to welcome the motion for a resolution which has been tabled. We are pinning great hopes on technological development, especially the Internet, revitalising the European economy. At the same time, we must not forget that the Internet is a medium which guarantees both the rights and freedoms of Europe’s citizens. This also includes many of the new media.

When we are talking about net neutrality, I think that two things need to be very clear. Firstly, Internet providers must not restrict Internet access in any way or the use of particular information. Secondly, however, the opportunity must be provided for proper management of the Internet so that there are no bottlenecks or disruption.

I am completely relying on the European Commission and BEREC – the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications – to be able to finish their work and strike this balance, also by including these issues in the future cyber security strategy.

 
  
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  Judith A. Merkies (S&D).(NL) Mr President, Commissioner, are Mr De Gucht and Ms Kroes saying that there are no measures to be expected in the near future? That is exactly what the European Parliament wants.

The Netherlands had to adopt a kind of emergency law in June of this year legally prescribing net neutrality – and it was the first country in the European Union to do so – as a direct consequence of the fact that our largest telecoms operator KPN wanted to have customers pay to use the online services of competitors such as Skype and WhatsApp even though it had already been stipulated in the first telecoms package back in 2009 that the net must be neutral throughout Europe. Apparently – and this is a bit crazy – we have to specify that ‘neutral’ does not really mean neutral, and that it is not up to the company in question to interpret neutrality, but up to us, the legislators, and that we have to guarantee it, and that services must not be blocked or surcharged as a result of changed habits on the part of consumers.

I really would advocate, however, that we avoid having 27 different interpretations of net neutrality. We need to step in now, we do not want to see some sort of emergency laws, as a free and neutral Internet is the economic, communications backbone of our society and needs to be transparent, high quality and neutral.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE). - Mr President, the European Parliament can today show its leadership in promoting human rights and entrepreneurship both in Europe and worldwide. Net neutrality is about freedom of speech, freedom to access and share information and freedom of choice for consumers.

The internet governs our lives, whether we are talking about individuals, about companies or about institutions. We need a rich content of information and to facilitate access to information which could improve our lives and lead to concrete economic growth.

However, we also need to protect our citizens and institutions from misuses of the Internet, like cyber attacks, which could lead to dangerous effects on society. We have to keep the balance between protection and censorship, and at the same time to ensure that as much information as possible is accessible via the Internet, in order to develop our society.

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the principle of net neutrality is fundamental to preserving the Internet’s innovative nature and free competition, and to respect for human rights. We need to enjoy net neutrality, at European and not national level, which allows users not to have conditions restricting their access to applications or services. Transparency, quality of service, eliminating false advertising, as well as the option for consumers to switch Internet providers must be supported and increased with a view to protecting neutrality and citizens’ rights.

In some Member States, like Romania, there is a significant regional disparity in terms of Internet access. Many areas are not covered by any providers, while those which are covered do not offer good-quality services in most cases. We must take into account regional cohesion at European level with regard to Internet access, since there is a great risk of creating …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Mr President, the aim of the European Union’s telecommunications reforms from 2009 was to enhance the competitive environment for telecommunications services on the internal market. It also set out a legal definition of Internet neutrality and the public’s right to open access to the Internet. The deadline for implementing the new telecommunications rules expired in May this year. In April this year the Commission adopted another communication on Internet neutrality.

It is therefore a good time to take a look together to see whether these recast regulations have brought the expected changes and have been applied in Member States to provide users with more product information and transparency, better quality of services and easy ways to switch operators if they are dissatisfied with one operator’s services. In particular, the regulator should rule out problems with weakening signals or network outages which could be regarded as loss of quality of the services provided by...

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, net neutrality obliges providers to treat all Internet traffic equally, without regulating it. However, many network providers attempt to exploit their position in order to exclude other market operators, in Internet telephony for example. The speed of access for foreign providers is purposely reduced so as not to put their own telephone services at risk. This obviously restricts competition and freedom of expression. We therefore need guidelines for the mobile telephony market in order to ensure net neutrality there, too.

Secondly, we need more transparency for end users, in other words information on providers and services, because there is often a discrepancy between advertising and reality, particularly with regard to Internet speed.

Thirdly, at the end of the day, all users should have the opportunity to switch to a new provider without any problems.

 
  
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  Evelyn Regner (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, representative of the Polish Presidency, the Internet is the extension of the analogue world into the digital world, and not the wild west. Values, rights and basic democratic freedoms apply there as they do here.

In order to guarantee the freedom of the network it is necessary to preserve, as far as possible, the technological neutrality and service neutrality of the Internet infrastructure in respect of data, content and protocols. Our goal should and must be to prohibit access providers from discriminating against certain data content by transmitting it at different speeds, and we should do this at European and/or national level. Self regulation is not something in which I would necessarily have much confidence in this area.

Compliance with these prohibitions should genuinely be monitored by the appropriate authorities, and – as in the analogue world – they should be provided with the appropriate control mechanisms.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). (SK) Mr President, the principle of net neutrality and the main issues being debated are based, above all, on how best to keep the openness of the Internet and guarantee so that high-quality services can continue to be provided for everybody and innovation can develop. Net neutrality affects a whole range of rights and principles enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, particularly with regard to privacy and the right to a family life, personal data protection and freedom of expression and information.

For this reason, any legislative proposal in this area would have to be studied carefully on the basis of the law and for compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If net neutrality is not preserved, this would be a significant threat for example in the form of anti-competitive practices, blocking innovation, restricting freedom of expression and plurality of the media, as well as lack of consumer information and breaches of privacy. It would harm enterprises, consumers and democratic society as a whole.

 
  
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  Androulla Vassiliou, Member of the Commission. Mr President, first of all let me express the regrets of my colleague Mr De Gucht, who has had to leave for the airport, so has asked me to read his closing remarks. And please be assured that I will convey what I have heard here to my colleague Mrs Kroes.

My colleague thanks you for this very interesting exchange of views. Your views and your commitment in the area of the open internet and net neutrality are essential. The Commission looks forward to seeing the outcome of your deliberations and to read the motion for a resolution which will be voted on tomorrow.

The Commission will reflect on the important messages that emerged from today’s exchange of views and assures you that such messages will shape any proposal that is brought forward. Overall, the Commission will be vigilant that new EU telecoms rules on transparency, quality of service and the ability to switch operator are applied in a way that ensures that open and neutral internet principles are respected in practice.

The Commission will also publish evidence from BEREC’s investigation, including any instances of blocking or throttling certain types of traffic. If BEREC’s findings and other feedback indicate outstanding problems, it will assess the need for more stringent measures. In parallel, the Commission will continue its dialogue with the Member States and stakeholders to ensure the rapid development of broadband, which is essential to reduce the pressure on internet traffic.

 
  
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  Magdalena Gaj, President-in-Office of the Council. – (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, thank you very much for this debate. As I said before, it is extremely important for the Presidency, but also for you and for all our citizens, because, as you have all said here in turn, regardless of party affiliation, and as I shall now say, we are all in favour of an open and neutral Internet. This is a fundamental value and we cannot abandon it. We must guarantee our citizens transparency of choice, an awareness of choice and provision of the best quality services everywhere.

Many of you referred to fundamental rights, issues relating to the protection of consumers, the protection of personal data and unfair advertising. The Council too is aware of all these issues and takes note of them in its conclusions. What Mr Reul and Mr Hökmark spoke about, the construction of next-generation networks and the use of additional frequency resources – this is what we were able to accomplish during the Polish Presidency. The excellent cooperation with Parliament, and the completion of work on the first radio spectrum policy programme and the making available and harmonisation of the state-owned 800 MHz frequency, will allow us to provide Internet access everywhere, even in difficult areas with low population densities.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Member States consider the open and neutral character of the Internet to be one of the major policy objectives. Mr Alvaro has asked why the Council departed from this objective and changed its conclusions. There was absolutely no change, and I can quote it right now: ‘The Council underlines the need to preserve the open and neutral character of the Internet and consider net neutrality as a policy objective.’ There has been absolutely no change made here. ‘The Council underlines the importance of ensuring efficient transparency, that is, enabling consumers to make better and informed choices, and the importance of addressing the issues of discrimination and degradation of service that may arise.’ These Council conclusions will be adopted at the next meeting of the Council of Ministers on 13 December 2011.

 
  
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  President. − To conclude the debate, I have received one motion for a resolution(1) pursuant to Rule 115 (5), of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12.00.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE), in writing. – (PL) Internet service providers are utility companies, just like suppliers of water or gas. Such companies should not tell us that the water in the kitchen will flow faster than in the bathroom, or that the light in the bedroom will only be half as bright as that in the hall. The provider’s task is to maintain the pipes and wires, and the role of the consumer is to decide on their use. The contents of the Internet should be equal and equally available. The role of the supplier is limited here to charging the user in a manner appropriate to the use of the services. If the provider wants to offer an unlimited calling plan, and the consumer is ready to pay for it, everything is right and fine. However, this unlimited plan must indeed be free of any restrictions. We are all aware of the fact that from time to time we may have to deal with an outage in the supply of water or electricity due to an accident or maintenance. Sometimes our Internet connection is slower than usual. However, this should be an exception, not the rule. Internet services and the security of the contents must be inseparable. Thus, as is the case for Europe, we cannot afford to have a two-speed Internet.

 
  

(1) See Minutes.

Last updated: 19 March 2012Legal notice