Brussels to tighten grip on web services in telecoms shake-up

Facebook and Microsoft among US groups under pressure

Brussels will tighten its regulatory grip over services such as WhatsApp and Skype in a radical overhaul of the EU's rules on telecoms due out in September.

According to internal documents, "over-the-top" online services operated by groups such as Facebook, which runs WhatsApp, and Skypeowner Microsoft would have to abide by "security and confidentiality provisions" demanded by the EU.

The move is the clearest indication yet that the EU is attempting to assert some measure of control over the predominantly US companies that dominate the sector.

At the moment, such services fall into a legal grey area, with the bulk of regulation aimed at traditional telecoms groups.


The European Commission, the EU's executive body, will issue an initial announcement in September before spelling out the provisions in a separate review of the EU's "ePrivacy" law later this year, according to the documents.

They will cover how services such as WhatsApp must comply with requests from security agencies and the ways in which companies can make money from customer data, according to officials.

The plan comes as part of a reform of the EU’s telecoms policy, which is aimed at helping increase access to fast broadband as well as ironing out differences in regulation faced by telecoms groups and their internet rivals.

Over-the-top services

Commission officials argue that over-the-top services – which let users deliver calls and messages via the internet – should be regulated in a similar way to services they have overtaken, including SMS text messaging and traditional voice calling.

As part of the same review, services that let users dial a phone number online face being roped into stringent EU rules on telecoms, according to draft documents.

This would give national regulators across the EU a bigger say in the operations of the US groups, as well as compel them to offer access to emergency service numbers.

Calls that take place without using a number – such as Skype-to-Skype calls - will not be affected by this rule, despite years of complaints from rivals in the telecoms sector. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016