EU Proposes Regulations for Online Communication Services

The European Union’s executive arm is poised to propose that online communication services such as Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook’s WhatsApp be regulated similarly to telecoms, a move that telecom executives have long advocated as creating a level playing field. Telecoms would actually prefer that the EU repeal regulations on user privacy among other specifics but, in lieu of that, are content to see their industry-specific regulations extended to online communication services, most of which are currently free.

The Wall Street Journal notes that the EU proposals are, however, still in flux and face “potentially years of debate and changes before adoption.” One telecom executive says, “it would be better to remove rules for us,” but that, nevertheless, proposing rules for online services is “real progress.”

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Telefónica, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and Orange are among the “telecom giants” that have complained about the lack of parity in regulations.

The European Commission states the proposals are intended to “encourage investments in next-generation networks, set the right conditions for modern digital networks and provide a level playing field for all market players.” Reuters says the Commission plans “will propose giving all European consumers the right to affordable basic broadband … meaning national governments will have to provide public money to ensure universal coverage.”

According to Reuters, the draft proposal states that, “over-the-top services will have to ensure the security and integrity of their services, including reporting breaches to authorities and having contingency plans and service continuity strategies.”

Although the proposed rules do specify lighter “security obligations” for companies that “do not exercise control over the transmission of their services over telecom networks,” they will be obliged to ensure “a level of security commensurate with the degree of risk posed to the security of the communications services they provide.”

For example, says WSJ, Skype “may have to offer emergency-calling services for European customers who use its online-voice service to dial traditional phone numbers” as well as enable users who have telephone number “allowing the receipt of calls from traditional phones” to take the numbers with them if they move to another service.

Over-the-top services do enable telecom companies to “sell more-expensive data plans.” At the trade group representing U.S. tech companies, Computer & Communications Industry Association, vice president for Europe James Waterworth warns that regulations and their associated costs could have a negative impact.

“You could see these cheaper calling options and video options disappearing from the markets,” he said.