Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Mr Stephen Timms MP, Minister of State (E-Commerce), Department of Trade and Industry

  Un-numbered 2000/0189 (COD)—Information note: proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector—Outcome of the European Parliament's second reading (Brussels 29-30 May 2002).

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum dated 10 June which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 17 June.

  We are glad to see that the European Parliament's second reading debate and vote on 29/30 May has produced support for the compromise amendments supported by the Council Presidency and acceptable to the Commission. We note that this means that formal conciliation procedures will not be required.

  We have looked at the four key elements that constitute the compromise:

    —  the explicit reference to the need for proper safeguards including the need to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and fundamental freedoms and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights;

    —  on cookies and other tracking devices, we note that the amendment deletes the requirement for information to be provided in advance; given that cookies can be disabled restrospectively, this seems a sensible compromise;

    —  on the amendments for unsolicited commercial email (spamming), we note that the general rule should be opt-in, but with an opt-out exemption for emails sent in the context of an existing customer relationship;

    —  and on the question of subscriber directories we applaud the need for subscribers to be informed in advance about the directories in which they may be included. We note that the amendments effectively leave it to Member States to decide whether they want to impose a separate consent requirement on directories which have reverse search functions. We should be grateful to know what HMG's position is on this.

  Finally, we note that the introduction of a new review clause will apply to the whole Directive.

  Given the positive outcome of the vote in the European Parliament, the Scrutiny reserve on this document is lifted.

19 June 2002

Letter from Stephen Timms MP to the Chairman

  The DTI submitted an Explanatory Memorandum on this document on 10 June 2002. The Commons European Scrutiny Committee considered it politically important and cleared it (Report 32, Item 23523, Session 01/02). The Lords Select Committee on the EU lifted scrutiny reserve in a letter to the Minister dated 19/6/02 following consideration in Sub-Committee B.

  You also considered an ONTYR Explanatory Memorandum on the draft version of the document, as a result of which you wrote to Douglas Alexander on 15 May 2002 on the specific issue of the implementation of the Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) Regulation in the UK. I have dealt with this issue in my reply to your letter of 15 May concerning the Commission's Seventh Report on implementation of telecoms regulation.

  In your letter of 19 June to Douglas Alexander you lifted the Scrutiny reserve on the final version of the eEurope 2005 Action Plan but expressed concerns about specific aspects of the Action Plan. These were the inclusion in the plan of eLearning targets, the pace of future roll-out or broadband and the arguments advanced by the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA) for the development of an EU-wide common cost account methodology.

  The new eEurope 2005 targets for eLearning are not new territory for European cooperation. They represent a progression from targets set in the eEurope 2002 Action Plan which aimed for all schools to have access to the internet and multimedia resources and to be linked to high speed academic and research networks. The new 2005 targets—broadband connections, the specific eLearning Programme, virtual campuses, computer-supported resource sharing—follow on as a natural development of the earlier objectives. During discussion of the draft action plan with the Member States, the Commission accepted that it would be unrealistic to set hard and fast goals, and Member States are therefore left with considerable flexibility to implement the eEurope strategy by developing appropriate policies to fit their own circumstances. This means that the cost implications remain firmly under the control of national governments.

  You ask for the Government's view on the pace of the future roll-out of broadband. Broadband internet access in the UK is currently making substantial progress, there are currently 20,000 new broadband connections each week and Oftel announced on 8 October that there are now more than one million broadband subscribers in the UK. This has come as a result of the price cuts over the past 18 months in which the cable companies and then BT have dramatically reduced their prices enabling consumers to benefit from basic broadband products at less (in some cases much less) than £30 per month. Terrestrial broadband is now available to some two-thirds of the UK population. Rising demand will be a substantial driver of further roll-out of broadband. BT, Liberty Broadband (a wireless broadband operator) and the East of England Development Agency are all running schemes by which people are encouraged to register demand in areas which are not currently served by terrestrial broadband. These schemes are designed to reduce the risk associated with capital investment necessary to extend access. Several providers are also offering new satellite broadband services which are available throughout the country. We also hope to see new technologies and business models develop and the £30 million UK broadband fund is helping to finance trials of some of these in the regions and devolved administrations. However, the Government recognises that the investments needed to supply the remaining third of the UK population are large and attract a high-risk premium, and is seeking to address this through measures to stimulate supply and demand in parallel, including using public sector purchasing of broadband more effectively.

  Oftel is playing an active role in setting the regulatory framework for a competitive broadband market which is conducive to further investment and roll-out to more remote areas of the country. Oftel recently directed BT to allow telecoms operators to interconnect with their network so as to provide their own DSL services, either on a wholesale basis or directly to end users.

  You also sought the Government's view on the suggestion made by ECTA that the Commission should develop a common cost accounting methodology for use by national regulatory authorities. In fact, the Independent Regulators' Group, of which Oftel is a member, has recognised that cost accounting methods vary across Europe and as part of its 2002 work programme is seeking to develop a common approach to cost accounting. The Government does not believe, therefore, that it is necessary for the Commission to address this issue at the present time.

21 October

Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Timms MP, Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness, Department for Trade and Industry

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum dated 22 October which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 4 November.

  We have no difficulty with this resolution, and the Scrutiny reserve is accordingly lifted.

6 November 2002

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