Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Focus

Latvia wants bigger fines for internet violators

  • If a Latvian internet provider breaks the rules on net neutrality, it can currently only be fined €14,000 or less (Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns)

The Latvian parliament is working on a draft law that will allow its telecoms regulator to hand out bigger fines to companies which violate EU rules on open internet.

“The regulator argues that in certain situations it is easier and cheaper for the offending party to pay the penalty than refrain from the violation,” Latvian right-wing MP Gaidis Berzins told EUobserver.

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  • Some 62 percent of Latvian internet users go online via a smartphone - far below the EU average of 79 percent (Photo: Alexander Lyubavin)

In 2015, EU states agreed to uphold the principle of net neutrality, which says that internet providers are not allowed to slow down access to a website to give another website a competitive advantage.

The EU regulation adopted then said national governments should update their laws and lay down “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties.

An investigation by this website published last week, showed that fines differed greatly between EU member states.

In Latvia, a company can be fined between €200 and €14,000 if caught violating net neutrality.

This website asked Berzins for a comment. He did not immediately reply, but wrote an email on Tuesday (11 July), explaining the €14,000 fine is the maximum allowed under the current law.

The MP said that Latvia's Public Utilities Commission, which is the responsible enforcement agency in the Baltic state, believed the penalty was “neither dissuasive nor effective” and had asked parliament to intervene.

“According to the regulator, the maximum penalty is not sufficient to prevent electronic communications service providers from committing offences,” said Berzins, a former justice minister.

The Latvian parliament, or Saeima, is working on a draft law to amend the penalty provision, allowing the enforcement agency to give a penalty that is “proportional to the offender’s net turnover in the relevant reporting year”.

A percentage of a company's turnover is also the approach taken in EU member states like Belgium, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, and the UK.

The Czech Republic is another country that has a fixed figure - a maximum fine of 10 million koruna, or €380,000 - but is also adapting the law, to have the ability to fine up to 5 percent of annual revenue.

MP Berzins said the Saeima's legal affairs committee will continue to work on this draft law after the summer break.

According to figures from Eurostat, just over 75 percent of Latvians regularly use the Internet, with only 62 percent of internet users going online with a smartphone.

Investigation

Fines on open internet vary greatly in EU

The fine for violating the EU principle of net neutrality is €9,600 in Estonia, while it can be up to €1 million in Bulgaria, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

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Fines in the EU are often divergent and low. The European Commission proposes to change EU consumer rules to make fines more deterrent.

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