Telecom, media companies protest EU plan

A European Union proposal to regulate Internet TV and other new media services has created an uproar among Internet and telecommunications companies, which banded together and released on Tuesday a paper detailing their complaints.

Companies including Cisco Systems Inc., BT Group PLC, Vodafone Group PLC, NTL Group Ltd. and Yahoo Inc. signed on to the paper, which argues that the E.U. proposal would drive new media players from the European market and encourage those companies to invest elsewhere.

As part of the new proposal, the E.U. recommends applying a basic set of minimum principles to on-demand services that would support some of the same regulations around broadcast TV, such as rules designed to protect minors, prevent incitement to racial hatred and outlaw certain types of advertising. The idea is to harmonize a minimum set of rules to allow companies to deliver on-demand video services across Europe without having to comply with many different rules in each country, according to E.U. documents.

“At the highest level we support what is taking place in the draft but we don’t think that what is proposed is the right way to go about achieving those aims,” said Vicky Read, program manager at Intellect, a U.K. telecommunications, electronics and technology trade association that spearheaded the response to the proposal.

If the proposal were passed, regulators would be faced with monitoring not just the limited number of existing broadcasters but countless and potentially elusive companies as well, she said. An individual maintaining from home a video blog that includes advertising would be subject to the new rules, Read said.

The companies say that the new rules should allow the industry to continue to be governed by the E-Commerce Directive as well as existing self-regulatory efforts, Read said. The E-Commerce Directive was adopted in 2000 and is largely a set of rules meant to protect consumers and other businesses such as ISPs (Internet service providers) relating to e-commerce. The industry is also currently monitored by self-regulatory groups, such as the Association for Television On Demand, but such groups wouldn’t be able to continue to regulate under the current proposal, Read said.

The companies also hope to better define what types of businesses might be affected by the final E.U. proposal. “We’re suggesting that the industry works with the E.U. to try to find some precise wording to narrow down the definition to be very precise, as opposed to now which is very broad and all-encompassing,” Read said.

Read said that the E.U. has been working on this new proposal since 2002, but input from the industry was largely limited to the traditional broadcasters until late last year when the new media players were invited to participate. The draft proposal came out in December and it is planned to take effect in 2010. Intellect has been talking to other organizations in Europe and hopes to involve them in the initiative to change the proposal in the near future, she said.

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