MEPs have adopted their position on the most ambitious reform of the EU telecoms market for a quarter of a century, as a basis for negotiations with the EU governments in the Council of Ministers.
The mobile phone app industry is worth an estimated €11 billion and supports almost 800,000 jobs in Europe. Netflix, which pioneered subscription-based on-demand streaming, now has over 1.5 million subscribers in the UK alone.
So the stakes are high, but 28 markets with 28 different pricing regimes and sets of rules makes business for telecoms companies in Europe cumbersome and expensive, leading to higher costs for consumers and stifling of growth.
The EP position supports the creation of a truly pan-European digital market. Streamlined regulation will allow telecoms companies to operate and invest across borders, consumers to have better rights that apply across the EU and Europe to be in the global lead in developing competitive online services. This is a good example of #whyiamin.
But MEPs have boosted the value of this new law even further with 2 extra very important elements: a call to end all roaming surcharges in 2015 - so that customers pay the same price for calls, texts, emails and data as at home; and provisions on 'net neutrality'. I want to highlight the latter.
The internet is now hugely important for communicating, accessing information and delivering content. But threats come not only from mass surveillance by intelligence services, but also from the threat of big businesses with deep wallets making deals with internet service providers (ISPs) to promote their content through preferential faster and higher quality delivery, perhaps through 'throttling' or even blocking rivals to crowd out their competition and affecting the internet service experienced by everyone else.
Exclusive deals between individual content providers and ISPs could mean specific apps being limited to a particular service provider, forcing users to pay multiple times in order to access all the services they want. So this is where the principle of 'net neutrality' comes into play. It's important to establish a framework for this now, before bad practices by internet giants become established and widespread.
Our Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe (ALDE) group is the champion of an open internet not only to protect freedom of expression, media pluralism and access to information, but also to allow new business start-ups - like in Tech City in east London in my constituency - the possibility to access the market and compete fairly by offering innovative services and creating jobs. In this way we stand for both social liberalism/civil liberties and economic liberalism.
Thus ALDE has led the way in securing amendments to ensure a regulatory environment that enhances both consumer choice and economic growth, enshrining the principle of net neutrality in EU law for the first time through wording to guarantee that all internet traffic is treated equally without discrimination, restriction or interference. Blocking and throttling of internet content will be banned so that citizens will have access to all services of choice in an open internet.
We have at the same time allowed space for 'specialised services' such as video on demand as long as there is sufficient network capacity so they do not squeeze out ordinary users or prejudice their internet speeds, giving an incentive to invest in expanded broadband capacity. Importantly, we are providing that if consumers do not get the internet speed they have signed up for, they can cancel their contract.
Thanks to the initiative of the ALDE Group there will be 'rules of the road' which do not see some users pushed into the slow lane by internet highwaymen protecting those in the fast lane (unlike how you have to get out of the way of 200k per hour Merc or BMW on a terrifying 2-lane German motorway!). We aim to ensure that low barriers of entry to the market allow for innovation, competition and better consumer choice permitting access to all services in an open and fair internet instead of one dominated and carved up by the biggest players.