The European Parliament will vote on two committee reports on Wednesday that outline changes to the Telecoms Package 2002, and hold implications for net neutrality and the freedom of internet users.
Citizen rights groups argue that, if the reports are adopted, internet service providers will be able to limit user access to certain sites, or charge users more money to access those sites.
The groups have said that the reports have been heavily influenced by US telecoms giants, including AT&T and Verizon, and are signs of the European Parliament watering down its concerns in order to form a consensus with the European Council ahead of the elections set for 4-7 June.
The groups have called on MEPs to side with previous versions of the reports, which contained amendments by the European Parliament to protect internet users' freedoms. However, the groups have said that the probability of MEPs doing so is small because of the upcoming elections.
The two reports relate to the Telecoms Reform Package, which is currently making its way through the EU's parliamentary procedure in order to revise a set five EU directives collectively known as the EU Telecoms Rules of 2002. The revision aims to make the European telecoms market more unified.
The first report, authored by UK MEP Malcolm Harbour, details changes to the
Universal Services Directive, which considers whether citizens' use of the
internet can be restricted by ISPs. A European Parliament change, known as the
166 amendment, stated that telcos are prohibited from blocking users at their
However, the amendment was rejigged last week, allowing operators to choose what content, services and applications can be accessed through their networks, according to Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net, who also argued that Harbour's proposals are due to active US telecoms lobbyists.
Although the telecoms operators have said that they want to have more control over their service availability in order to provide better quality service to users, they actually want the control so they can decide to invest less in bandwidth and more in technologies that can analyse content, suggested Zimmerman.
"ISPs are arguing that the internet is about to crumble, that internet services are limited and these congestion problems need to be fixed if customers do not want their services to be disrupted," said Zimmermann.
"They argued that they cannot cope with user demand for certain sites like YouTube and it is necessary to instead prioritise providing access to essential services. Users will have to pay for such sites, but in order to charge users ISPs have to first decrease the quality of service."
Zimmerman said that if the watered down Harbour report is accepted by parliament, the internet will become a "sub-internet", similar to the internet services provided by mobile operators, where access to services like VoIP or video streaming is restricted.
"This will create big problems for internet innovation, is anti-competitive and stops freedom of expression," he said.
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