EU warned that internet will suffer if regulated like TV

Traditional regulation should not be applied to TV content on the internet, a coalition of business organisations has warned. Seven European organisations representing over 500,000 businesses put demands to the European Parliament for discussion today.

Business lobby groups from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, Luxembourg and Switzerland have drawn up a 'Common European Business Position' on the issue for the European Parliament.

A European Parliament meeting today will discuss changes to the Television Without Frontiers (TVWF) Directive which could extend television regulation to audio-visual content on the internet.

"TVWF as drafted would shoehorn digital content providers into rules designed for traditional broadcasters, undermining high-value, high-tech economic growth when it should be stimulating it," said a statement from business representative group the CBI.

"If they approve this, MEPs and EU ministers risk shooting themselves in the foot by undermining the goal of promoting an 'open and competitive digital economy' under the European Commission's i2010 programme," said CBI deputy director-general John Cridland. "There is little in this Directive to help Europe's businesses compete in the fast-moving, highly competitive world of interactive digital services, broadcasting and advertising. Future European jobs are on the line."

The European Commission has proposed extending the scope of the Directive to emerging media such as internet audio and video and 3G mobile phone multimedia services, which are becoming more like television services.

The business lobby groups argue that this extension of regulation will simply drive jobs in the sector outside Europe. Cridland said: "The internet is subject to the full force of globalisation like no other industry or sector and Brussels must adopt a more flexible, innovative and pro-growth approach or companies will shift marketing spend to non-European countries.

The paper produced for the Parliament recommends giving self-regulation a chance before legislating for the new media.

There has been much recent evidence that television and computer based services are becoming more similar. In the UK a new household gadget was introduced which took television and sent it to PCs and other digital devices around the home.

Called the Slingbox, the machine plugs into a cable or satellite TV connection and allows a PC or laptop in the same house to tune in to the signal. The device will be launched around Europe during the course of the year.

Another indication of the blurring of lines between screen and computer media industries was the announcement yesterday that Disney would allow some of its films to be downloaded over the internet for a fee and reproduced in certain controlled ways. Users' requirements to reproduce the films for personal viewing has traditionally been a barrier to digital distribution.

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