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EU telco reform trips over Three Strikes

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Two years of negotiation and compromises to craft a giant EU telecomms package ended in recrimination this afternoon, after the Parliament fell out over disconnecting hardcore internet downloaders.

The bumper package addressed spectrum usage and technical regulation, but at the last minute, "three strikes" proved a stumbling block. The French had pushed the hardest for a disconnection policy. In the end, greens and socialists failed to vote for the compromise, which saw introduced judicial oversight. Despite passing by 407 votes for - 57 against, with 171 MEPs abstaining - the amendment means the entire package is blocked.

"We're in uncharted territory," Professor Martin Cave, telco regulation expert told us today. Cave was in Strasbourg to witness the vote.

Political consensus unraveled at the last moment, he said, with Parliamentarians reluctant to be seen taking an "anti consumer" stance so close to the election.

The package now moves to a conciliation process. But when the EU returns to the issue, it will be with an entirely new Commission, and a Parliament (after next month's elections) of a different character.

"We're going to be in trench warfare for anything up to fifteen months," said Cave. "It's a pity - spectrum policy and the streaming of regulation have been suspended. Everybody will be spending their time arguing over that instead of developing a broadband strategy for Europe, for example, or looking ahead to what comes after the Lisbon agenda".

One contentious issue that fell off the agenda on the road to Strasbourg was "net neutrality". Google had lobbied for Green MPs to introduce technical regulation of the internet - but that fell by the wayside with sensible compromises eventually agreed.

Networks feared they would be hampered from legitimate network management practices by activists. They now have to make these clear and transparent to end users, and while the regulator could inquire why a technique is being used, there are acceptable uses: such as stopping the network from collapsing. ®

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