E.U. Agrees on New Internet-User Rights

BRUSSELS — Europe is set to get a major facelift of its telecommunications regulation after negotiators reached an agreement to pass a raft of new laws, addressing an array of topics from net neutrality to online piracy.

The negotiators, representing the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers compromised on aspects of the Telecoms Reform Package, which will now become part of national legislation in every E.U. country, with a deadline of May 2011.

The Telecoms Reform Package had dragged on for six months because of the debate over a provision relative to the "three strikes" laws targeting Internet users suspected of unlawful file-sharing of copyrighted material.

Under the newly minted compromise, any decision to sever Internet access to clamp down on digital copying of music and movies must be subject to a legal review.

“The promotion of legal offers, including across borders, should become a priority for policy-makers,” said Viviane Reding, the E.U. Telecoms Commissioner. “Three-strikes -laws, which could cut off Internet access without a prior fair and impartial procedure or without effective and timely judicial review, will certainly not become part of European law."

The debate over penalizing those who pirate copyrighted material came to the forefront in France this year, where the three-strikes law was instituted.

The new rules will ensure that European consumers have an ever-greater choice of competing broadband service providers by spelling out minimum quality levels for network transmission services so as to promote "net neutrality" and "net freedoms" for European citizens.

The new rules also create an E.U.-wide range of common frequencies for mobile broadband freed up by broadcasters in the transition to digital transmission.

Internet service providers also will gain the right to protect their business and their customers through legal action against spammers.

With the piracy sanctions issue resolved, the European Parliament and Council of Ministers are expected this month to adopt the telecommunications package, which among other provisions will create a new E.U. telecommunications regulator, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications.

A vote on the reforms is due by the end of the year.