Big EU Votes on Net Neutrality and Clinical Trials Data

Like me, you are probably getting slightly tired of the net neutrality saga in Europe. It has dragged on for years now, and it's tempting just to throw up your hands and move on to something else. But boring as it may be, net neutrality really...


Like me, you are probably getting slightly tired of the net neutrality saga in Europe. It has dragged on for years now, and it’s tempting just to throw up your hands and move on to something else. But boring as it may be, net neutrality really matters: it defines the essence of the Internet, and if we lose true net neutrality, we lose the Internet that we have known for the past two decades. Significantly, net neutrality has just been guaranteed in Brazil through the passing of what is known as the Marco Civil; it would be unforgivable if Europe failed to do the same.

For that reason, I would urge you to contact your MEPs one last time on this subject. What should be the final vote will take place on Thursday, 3 April. That follows the unsatisfactory vote in the ITRE committee that took place recently, where a compromised version of the text was narrowly approved. However, MEPs fighting for true net neutrality have not given up, and have come up with new amendments that will address the failings of the proposed text.

There are seven amendments, put together by a broad coalition of parties – the Social-Democrats (S&D), the Greens (Greens/EFA), the United Left (GUE/NGL) and the Liberals (ALDE). You can read the details [.pdf], but the key amendments concern the definition of the controversial “specialised services.” First, the group’s definition of net neutrality:

(12 a) (new) “net neutrality” means the principle that all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of its sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application

And here’s the definition of a “specialised service”:

(15) “specialised service” means an electronic communications service optimised for specific content, applications or services, or a combination thereof, provided over logically distinct capacity, relying on strict admission control, offering functionality requiring enhanced quality from end to end and that is not marketed or usable as a substitute for internet access service;

Another key amendment on specialised services is the following:

Providers of internet access, of electronic communications to the public and providers of content, applications and services shall be free to offer specialised services to end-users. Such services shall only be offered if the network capacity is sufficient to provide them in addition to internet access services and they are not to the detriment of the availability or quality of internet access services. Providers of internet access to end-users shall not discriminate between functionally equivalent services or applications.

The central aim of these amendments is to ensure that specialised services do not push mainstream Internet services into the slow lane: that would allow deep-pocketed companies to block newcomers, for instance, thus throttling innovation.

Quite what the outcome of Thursday’s vote will be remains unclear. As one of the leading organisations campaigning to preserve net neutrality, La Quadrature du Net, notes:

This vote comes after five years of struggle for Net Neutrality. In the coming days, telecom lobbies and the European Commission will attempt to lean on the European Parliament as much as possible to get their version of the text passed. To counter this, and, considering the current political balance in the Parliament and the nature of preceding votes in committees, only a strong and sustained citizen mobilisation will be able to convince a majority of MEPs to prevent the death of the open Internet and to break party lines if need be.

Another major vote is taking place on the same day [update: it’s happening Wednesday, not Thursday]: that concerning clinical trials data. This too has been running for a while: I first wrote about this in 2012, and most recently in October last year. Since then, an important vote in the corresponding European Parliament committee was taken in December 2013, as this explains:

Exciting news from Brussels this morning – law that would mean researchers running a clinical trial in Europe have to register the trial before it begins and to publish summary results within a year of its end is a step closer. The committee of representatives from every EU member state government has agreed with the text of the Clinical Trials Regulation proposed by MEPs led by Glenis Willmott. This agreement now has to be formally ratified by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers (probably in early 2014) but today’s provisional agreement is a fantastic result at a very important stage of negotiation and is down to the hard work of the MEPs and thanks to your input.

Unlike the text for net neutrality, that for opening up clinical trials data seems to have broad-based support in the European Parliament, and should therefore pass when the plenary session votes on it this Thursday. However, just to be on the safe side, I would suggest we also urge our MEPs to support the text. It does make a difference, as this post on the Sense About Science emphasises:

We have heard from MEPs that letters from people like you have influenced votes on the legislation at other stages of its progress when good additions to it were at stake. This is our last chance to make sure we don’t lose the opportunity the legislation has given us to change clinical trial reporting in the future. Please let your MEP know that you want them to vote for clinical trial regulation. Find contact details for your MEP and sample letters here.

Another way to find your MEP is to use the indispensable WriteToThem. As usual, I’ve included below what I’ve sent to my MEPs.

I am writing to you in connection with the Plenary session votes on Thursday.

First, with regard to the vote on the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent 2013/0309(COD), I would like to urge you to support the amendments put forward by Catherine Trautmann and others. These concern Recitals 45, 49, 50, 51, Articles 2, 23 and 24.

I believe that these will help preserve true net neutrality, which lies at the heart of an open Internet. Without it, digital innovation in Europe will be at risk, since deep-pocketed companies, perhaps based abroad, will be able to throttle local start-ups with very limited resources. This would clearly not be in the interests of the European Union, which rightly seeks to promote new businesses, especially in the online world. Significantly, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has recently passed the ‘Marco Civil’ which enshrines net neutrality for the Brazilian people; it would be a shame if European citizens were unable to enjoy the same crucial right.

The other vote concerns the regulation on clinical trials on medicinal products for human use 2012/0192(COD). Here I would urge you to vote in favour of the proposal as it stands. I believe this will have a major impact on health in the European Union. It will not only save many thousands of lives through better knowledge about medicines and their possible effects, but also save considerable sums of money, both in the public and private sphere.

Thank you for your help in this matter.

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