Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

The European Parliament has voted in favour of reforms of telecommunications laws that members hope will boost competition and provide consumers with clearer information. The Parliament rejected some of the measures proposed by the European Commission.

Advert: free OUT-LAW Breakfast Seminars - 1. Making your contract work: pitfalls and best practices; 2. Transferring data: the information security issuesThe Commission had wanted to create a super-regulator of telecommunications to oversee competition and wanted to extend its remit to network security.

Rapporteurs who investigated the issue on behalf of their fellow MEPs made alternative proposals. The alternative plan created a co-regulatory body that would consult national telecoms regulators and the Commission but would not fall under direct Commission control. MEPs voted in favour of that change.

The Parliament also backed the suggestion that that regulator should not be responsible for network and information security.

Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said that she regretted MEPs' action on those issues. "Although the new body is smaller than proposed by the Commission – it will not have any responsibility for network security, which I regret – the Parliament's amendments have made sure that the new European telecoms regulator will be fit for purpose, namely to deal efficiently with the remaining business obstacles and consumer problems in the single market," she said.

The Parliament did back the Commission's plan to give national telecoms regulators the power to order dominant companies to restructure. Telcos with significant shares of a market – usually ex-nationally-owned monopolies – will have to run their networks and their actual telecoms services separately if ordered to by a national regulator.

The Parliament's amendments also clarified the role of the new rules when it comes to abuse of telecoms networks. It made it clear that the European Community was not responsible for laws on copyright or what content is legal and what is not, so Community rules should not try to govern the consequences of using telecoms services in relation to content. These are matters for each country and its laws, said the Parliament's amendments.

"Community law does not define what content is lawful or harmful, nor any penalties, since this is up to each Member State. However, all consumers must be informed of national rules on this," said a Parliament statement.

The Parliament also said that it wanted the rules to clarify that the Data Protection Directive does not just apply to the public sector.

"MEPs want it to clearly cover the right to privacy and confidentiality as well as to security of information technology systems," said the Parliament statement. "Data protection rules must cover private and not just public networks, so data stored on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace will be covered by the rules."

The new rules will also force operators to be very clear in customer contracts about price, availability and any restrictions put on services or equipment.

The new rules also order telecoms companies to tell national regulators if there has been a serious data security breach that could threaten the privacy of its members.  

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