Companies Warn About EU Broadcasting Rules

Media and technology companies are warning that proposed European Union broadcasting rules would restrict the growth of emerging media formats such as video broadcasts on the Internet and mobile phones.

On Tuesday, an alliance of British companies -- including ITV PLC, BT Group PLC and Vodafone Group PLC, and the UK subsidiaries of Yahoo Inc. Intel Corp., and Cisco Systems Inc. -- said a European Commission proposal to impose rules for traditional broadcasters on new media providers could have "unintended consequences" and hurt investment.

The European Commission wants to create a level playing field by making TV and TV-like services -- such as broadcasts over high speed broadband and third-generation mobile phones - follow the same set of rules. Those rules include limits on hate speech, advertising and the kind of content that can be broadcast to children.

Intellect, a London-based business lobby representing technology companies, said it would be difficult enforce the strict rules.

The EU proposal could ultimately mean less investment for an area that has enormous growth potential -- leading to fewer companies, less innovation and higher prices, the group said in a statement.

"Many services unconnected to scheduled broadcast television will be unintentionally caught," it said.

"Citizen media such as blogs, video-casts and the like are one of the most exciting developments enabled by new technology. This phenomenon has the potential to create new businesses ... but this proposed regulation severely risks stunting its growth," it said.

EU officials were not immediately available Tuesday to respond to the criticism, but the European Commission has insisted that it has no plans to regulate the Internet.

The European Internet Services Providers Association also is concerned about the "lack of clarity" in the EU draft law and is unsure what kind of technologies would be governed by the stricter rules, said Richard Nash, the association's secretary general.

"The U.K. government has taken a pro-active line stimulating the debate. In other countries, there's less awareness of it," he said.

Last year, David Currie, chairman of Britain's broadcasting regulator, the Office of Communications, said he doubted more regulation was the best way to promote new content and new business models in Europe.

"We have real concern as to whether it is feasible to adopt a traditional, broadcast-type regulatory model for content delivered on new media platforms," he told a September conference on EU broadcasting rules.

The law will need the backing of the European Parliament and 25 European Union governments before it can take effect. The Parliament is likely to vote on it later this year.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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