European Commission Preparing to Release Technology Regulation Plans

NEWS ANALYSIS: The European Union's executive branch is fighting competing demands for openness and protectionism as it tries to cope with the challenges of technology.

EC Tech Regulations 2

The European Commission will release its technology policy communication on May 25, and depending on exactly what's in the document, it could have significant impact on digital business communications between the United States and the European Union.

According to James Waterworth, Europe vice president of the Computer and Communication Industry Association, the EC's plans include new policies on Telecoms, audio-video media services, copyright issues, electronic privacy and demands for what some in Europe call a "Level Playing Field."

Waterworth told reporters in a morning press conference on May 24 that he has seen the draft documents that will be released the next day. However, he also said that it will take about two years and likely much compromise before they become formal regulations and three years after that to take effect.

Waterworth also said that EC Vice President Andrus Ansip has said that the EC will not try to force the technology sector into a one-size-fits-all regulation. Instead, the regulations will be tailored to individual industries.

There are two areas where there will be significant international impact, Waterworth said. One is in the area of copyrights, where there is an existing treaty on the use of intellectual property in the form of the Bern Convention. He said that some of the proposed changes could potentially put the EU in breach of that convention, but he also said that he didn't think the EC would intentionally create such a conflict.

However, according to Maud Sacquet, CCIA's public policy manager for Europe, there's strong support for a requirement that would force video-on-demand providers to contribute to national funds that are then used to subsidize local content producers.

She also said that video-on-demand providers may be required to have 20 percent European content in their mix of programming. In addition, she said that she expects there to be consideration of what she called the value gap in giving content creators visibility into their royalty payments.

Perhaps the biggest change that's being considered under the copyright rules would be to push platforms such as Facebook, Google and others out from the existing commerce directive, which is the European equivalent of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and make them liable for copyright infringement by their customers. This could have major international implications because it would put the EU in violation of a number of treaties.

The level playing field in communications could also have a major impact, although exactly how it would be implemented remains unclear. The idea is that there is strong support in Europe for requiring all forms of communications to have the same rules.

This means that the heavy regulations that apply to telephone services would also apply to Voice Over IP services such as Skype. According to Waterworth, this could mean that any form of voice or video calling, including voice chat services in Websites for things like customer service, would be hit with those regulations.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...