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CCIA Cautions EU Against 'Net Reg Expansion

The FCC has not shown an inclination to apply privacy, neutrality and other telecom regs to edge providers like search firms and social networks, but U.S. computer companies are concerned that the European Union could be moving in that direction.

In a conference call with reporters, Computer & Communications Industry Association Europe VP James Waterworth and public policy manager Maud Sacquet. both based in Brussells, said that May 25 could be the start of an avalanche of European Union proposals, including quotas for European programming in VOD offerings, quasi  governmental fees levied on distributors, and extending telecom regs to edge providers.

The proposals, even if adopted, would take several years, but CCIA is not waiting to sound the alarm.

Neither are more than a dozen European countries, who are pushing back on a call from France and Germany for curbing the power of edge providers like Google and other major players. Google is currently being investigated by the EU over its search and ad businesses.  

Top government officials from Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and United Kingdom wrote a joint letter to the European Commission saying that existing consumer rules, not new regulations, should govern the online space.

They also argue that data should be able to flow freely across borders and the goal should be to lower regulatory barriers, not erect new ones, while providing regulatory certainty.

CCIA is concerned that rather than taking that approach, the EU could follow Germany and France into a more regulatory regime. The good news, says Waterworth, is that it is not expected to recommend a one-size-fits-all horizontal approach to  different platforms--connected cars, Web sites.

But he is concerned that the EU will also be talking about creating a level playing field in areas like copyright, telecom, content and e-privacy. He calls that 'level playing field' a vague and abstract term that gives rise to concern. Waterford said that while the phrase sounds like it is about fairness, it could instead mean heavier rules on edge providers and apps. He said it makes no sense to apply sector-specific telecom rules to the eBay's and Air B&B's of the world.

He also signaled that the impact of heavier regs on the edge would be more easily shouldered by the large players, further entrenching them and leaving the impact to fall more heavily on their smaller online competitors.

While CCIA expects the EU to tee up the issues this week, any legislative proposals are not likely until September, with perhaps new rules teed up by the end of the year, but taking a couple of years to be hammered out, and any new laws taking about three years.

Also of concern will be proposals to require a 20% quota of European content in VOD offered in the UE member countries, which CCIA says would favor quantity over quality.

Also on the good side, in CCIA's view, the EU is not expected to require the Google's and Facebooks (both CCIA members) to be liable for infringement, with only a takedown requirement.

CCIA's members include Google, Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, and Microsoft.