EU Telecoms Reform & the Connected Continent

dreamstimemaximum_16290635The European Commission has published a set of ambitious regulatory proposals to ensure the creation of a telecoms single market within five years. Among its goals are to ensure faster connections and simplify things for both consumers and businesses.

The ¨Connected Continent¨ proposals include ensuring net neutrality, eliminating roaming premiums and significantly reducing red-tape for operators. They also introduce the possibility of a single EU authorisation which the proposals say might usefully follow the lessons of the banking industry. At present there are no EU-wide telecoms operators because authorisation is currently required in every EU country, each of which have their own different sets of rules. ¨One day there will be a European regulator, but in my opinion, it will need to be an independent one,¨ according to Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, speaking a press conference today.

The Commission has also made clear that this is a set of proposals that the Commission does not want to see picked apart. The package, taken as a whole, includes:
• Simplifying and reducing the regulatory burden for telecoms operators
• Greater coordination on allocation of the wireless spectrum allocation (facilitating more wireless broadband, 4G and the creation of integrated pan-European mobile networks)
• Encouraging greater competition through the standardisation of wholesale products
• Enshrining the open internet, with guarantees for net neutrality, innovation and consumer rights
• Eliminating roaming premiums by 2016 using both incentives and disincentives to ensure the cooperation of operators
• Protecting consumers by mandating contracts in plain language, with more easily comparable plans and increased options for them to switch providers. The idea being to force operators to be more transparent in how they advertise their services and speeds available to customers.

Despite some contradictory language, such as Neelie Kroes´ remarks mentioned above, the proposals do not expressly call for a single telecoms regulator, stating that ¨this is not the optimal solution for the market right now.¨ But the Commission will be able to block proposals from national regulators which go against the single market. They also plan to strengthen procedures involving the Commission and Member States to ensure better coordination of authorisation and the assignment of spectrum. It is intended that BEREC (the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications) will play an important role in developing the guidelines which ensure consistent regulation.

Also off the agenda are calls for a single ´Eurotariff´ or a pan-European spectrum license. And there there will be no changes to the definition of  an ¨electronic communications services provider¨, though they mention that the European telecoms sector is in difficulty, for a host of reasons including the fact that the telecoms sector has been slow to reform, such as responding to VOIP providers and fully taking into account the data revolution. Indeed, if one can take ´lessons´ from the EU banking industry and have a single European authorisation, why not propose a similar harmonisation of audiovisual content regulation under AVMS? Might this increasingly be the direction the Commission is taking the Digital Agenda with discussions on Connected TV and audiovisual convergence?

On net neutrality, the Commission emphasises that today there are no clear pan-EU rules on the topic. Despite laws having passed in the Netherlands and in Slovenia, 96% of European still do not have any legal protection for their right to access the full open internet. Accordingly, they intend to ban discriminatory blocking and throttling of networks. But there will be no ban on the sale of differentiated offers (such as by speed) or the creation of offers that would segment enhanced service levels, as airlines or postal services already do. They also envisage enabling operators to generate additional revenue from OTT players, content providers and/or consumers willing to pay for better or faster services. So there will be managed traffic, but the idea is to enable the operators to finance greater investments in their networks and expand. They also propose European oversight whereby ¨national regulators will monitor quality of service and may impose minimum quality requirements under Commission control.¨

Creating a Connected Continent has its origins in the the 2013 Spring European Council conclusions which called for the Commission to present “concrete measures to achieve the single market in ICT as early as possible” in time for the October European Council. The plans were outlined last week in EC President Jose Manuel Barroso´s State of the Union address in Brussels last week and revealed in detail on 11 September 2013. Three years of consultations, public events and private meetings informed the proposals. Nevertheless, telecoms operators across Europe will certainly be scrutinising the proposed changes. More information on the proposal legislative package can be found here.

[download file=”wp-content/uploads/download/report.doc” title=”EU Telecoms Reform & the Connected Continent Report”]