Telecom, media companies protest EU plan

A European Union proposal to regulate Internet TV and other newmedia services has created an uproar among Internet andtelecommunications companies, which banded together and released onTuesday a paper detailing their complaints.

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

As part of the new proposal, the E.U. recommends applying abasic set of minimum principles to on-demand services that wouldsupport some of the same regulations around broadcast TV, such asrules designed to protect minors, prevent incitement to racialhatred and outlaw certain types of advertising. The idea is toharmonize a minimum set of rules to allow companies to deliveron-demand video services across Europe without having to complywith many different rules in each country, according to E.U.documents.

“At the highest level we support what is taking place in thedraft but we don’t think that what is proposed is the right way togo about achieving those aims,” said Vicky Read, program manager atIntellect, a U.K. telecommunications, electronics and technologytrade association that spearheaded the response to theproposal.

If the proposal were passed, regulators would be faced withmonitoring not just the limited number of existing broadcasters butcountless and potentially elusive companies as well, she said. Anindividual maintaining from home a video blog that includesadvertising would be subject to the new rules, Read said.

The companies say that the new rules should allow the industryto continue to be governed by the E-Commerce Directive as well asexisting self-regulatory efforts, Read said. The E-CommerceDirective was adopted in 2000 and is largely a set of rules meantto protect consumers and other businesses such as ISPs (Internetservice providers) relating to e-commerce. The industry is alsocurrently monitored by self-regulatory groups, such as theAssociation for Television On Demand, but such groups wouldn’t beable to continue to regulate under the current proposal, Readsaid.

The companies also hope to better define what types ofbusinesses might be affected by the final E.U. proposal. “We’resuggesting that the industry works with the E.U. to try to findsome precise wording to narrow down the definition to be veryprecise, as opposed to now which is very broad andall-encompassing,” Read said.

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