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EU urges caution on Internet regulation

Eight European Union (EU) nations, including Britain, Ireland and Poland, yesterday urged caution with regulating the Internet, as Brussels prepares a sweeping review of the behaviour of Web giants that could see them subjected to new rules.

In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk, who will this week chair a meeting of the EU's eight heads of state, the leaders of Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Estonia, Poland, Finland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands, said the EU should only regulate "where there is clear evidence to do so".

In May, the bloc's executive, the European Commission, unveiled its Digital Single Market Strategy, a broad range of policy proposals aimed at dismantling barriers to cross-border online shopping, updating copyright rules and ending blocks on watching online videos abroad.

Central to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's strategy to create jobs in the EU, the plan also includes a review of the business practices of online platforms – such as Google, Amazon and Facebook – which could lead to regulation.

France and Germany have been among those pushing strongly for platform regulation to enable smaller European upstarts to compete with American tech giants, prompting US president Barack Obama earlier this year to accuse Europe of taking a protectionist turn.

But in the letter, seen by Reuters, the eight leaders called for a prudent approach to regulation while urging strong political endorsement of the digital single market strategy.

"There is no greater opportunity at our disposal to make a real difference for investment, growth and jobs, and deliver a vital boost to Europe's future global competitiveness," the heads of state wrote in the letter.

"This also means getting the regulatory balance right...It is very clear that a successful Digital Single Market will not be one that stifles innovation, investment and entrepreneurship."

European Commission vice-president Andrus Ansip, a former prime minister of Estonia, has strenuously denied an anti-American bias in his strategy, particularly in the area of online platforms.

A senior Google executive said yesterday that regulating the Internet would hurt Web companies and telecom operators alike.

"If Europe goes down the route of regulating the Internet more, that would make them [investors] less likely to invest more in European ISPs [Internet service providers]," said Theo Bertram, public policy manager at Google, at a conference in Brussels.

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