Reform of EU Telecom Laws Rejected by European Parliament

Wide-ranging reforms of European Union telecom laws were rejected by the European Parliament on Wednesday because of one clause that would have compromised citizens' rights of access to the Internet.

The reforms were designed to take account of advances in technology and the rapid growth of high speed Internet access.

The Parliament supported all other aspects of the reforms, including the creation of an E.U.-wide telecommunications regulator with powers to police competition in the single market, a plan for distributing radio spectrum among emerging mobile technologies, and enhancing citizens' privacy rights online data protection.

However, failure to agree one element in the so-called telecom package of legislation means the whole reform is stalled, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said after the vote in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday.

Initial reactions to the vote lauded the MEPs for not bowing to pressure from national governments, in particular France and the U.K., which wanted greater power to restrict people's internet access if they are found to have been downloading copyright content illegally.

The cable industry was one of the first to react.

"This is ultimately a consumer issue and the European Parliament stood up to be counted on behalf of its citizens and our 70 million European customers," said Manuel Kohnstam, president of the trade group Cable Europe.

"Europe has chosen to ignore a reflex to police the net in the name of one business model. In the end, there was support to protect the European fundamental right to access information," he said.

Representatives of the European Commission, which wrote the reforms and pushed hard for their adoption in recent weeks, weren't immediately available to comment. Telecom Commissioner Viviane Reding will hold a news conference later Wednesday, together with key MEPs involved in the law reform effort.

Some observers still believe the bulk of the reforms can be adopted even without support for the full package. However, representatives for the Commission and the Parliament were not immediately available to confirm this.

The failure to adopt the whole package came as a surprise to many observers, who believed the reform package was "in the bag", as one person close to Reding put it.

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