Consumers have been warned that their broadband bills could soar after the EU opened the door to "net neutrality" -- unrestricted, first-come-first-served access to the internet.
A new Centre for European Policy Studies paper due to be published this week says the US model would oblige normal users to subsidise heavy users, would give no incentive to service providers to invest in new-generation networks and encourage "free-riding" by applications and content providers.
The warnings come before high-level talks in Venice later this week between Viviane Reding, EU media commissioner, and the heads of global telecommunications and cable operators.
Net neutrality is due to be discussed by the EU's 27 telecoms ministers next month when they put the finishing touches to legislation designed to improve regulation, encourage investment and offer broadband coverage to all of Europe's 500 million citizens.
Industry sources said Reding, MEPs and the current French presidency of the EU had opened the back door to net neutrality by tabling amendments to the universal service directive, part of the telecoms package. This would enable national regulators to set minimum quality of service requirements to prevent "degradation" of service or slowing of traffic over networks.