Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

European MPs votes on new telecoms law

Lily Allen
In the UK Lily Allen joined calls for a crackdown on file-sharing

The European Parliament has approved a major overhaul of telecoms law across Europe.

The package includes a provision for "internet freedom" - the first time it has been referred to in law as fundamental right says the EU.

Member states have until May 24 2011 to include the legislation in their own rules.

It comes amid controversial laws being introduced in France and the UK to cut off persistent illegal downloaders.

Protecting internet access and users' rights was a high priority for MEPs hammering out the Telecoms Package.

Many critics say the eventual compromise solution is too weak and will not prevent disconnections.

Other measures in the telecoms package include an aim to harmonise the way mobile broadband is rolled out across the EU, which would help in the push to achieve 100% broadband coverage in Europe by 2013.

It also seeks to improve co-operation between member states' telecoms regulators and make it easier for incumbent operators to both provide and buy network services.

A law on citizens' rights aims to improve how quickly customers can change their mobile telephone number and strengthen personal data and privacy protection by, for example, allowing users to opt in to the use of cookies.

Fair hearing

Perhaps the most scrutinised part of the package is that which relates to file-sharing.

It comes as individual member states introduce tough penalties for those who download content illegally.

France has introduced a "three strikes" policy for those who share illegal content. If letters fail to stop them, illegal file-sharers risk being disconnected.

And the UK's Digital Economy Bill also seeks to impose technical restrictions, including disconnection, on persistent pirates.

Earlier this month, MEPs agreed on a compromise solution to protect user's rights which read: "A user's internet access may be restricted, if necessary and proportionate, only after a fair and impartial procedure including the user's right to be heard."

What the fair and impartial procedure will mean in practice is, as yet, unclear.

MEPs also agreed that restrictions on a user's internet access can only be taken "with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy".

But an earlier amendment which ruled that any application for cutting off internet access must go through a judge was rejected.

Some critics say the compromise is too weak while some lawyers argue that it could put the UK's newly introduced Digital Economy bill at odds with the Telecoms Package.

Meanwhile protests over the UK bill have grown, with 11,000 signing an e-petition against it while others predicted "civil unrest" as a result of the bill.

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