EU digital chief Neelie Kroes and the European Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, will launch a series of proposals on Wednesday (11 September) to “reset” the European telecoms sector, but a single telecoms regulator will not be among them.
While the EC’s press office said on Monday that a single telecoms regulator had been ruled out, the commission still proposes a “single EU authorisation” designed to cut through the red tape that operators face when launching cross-border services. The authorisation may well come from the home NRA (national regulatory authority) of the operator concerned.
The commission further proposes powers to push Europe’s NRAs in the direction of a ‘single telecoms market’ – the ultimate goal of Kroes – if it appears they are wavering.
As part of the EC’s proposals to prevent inconsistent obligations for carriers operating in more than one EU member state, Kroes argues that the EC should be able to require NRAs to withdraw draft regulatory proposals not complying with EU law.
Moreover, says Kroes, all NRA decisions must promote investment – although how this will be judged remains unclear.
The dropping of a single telecoms regulator looks to be a fairly recent change in Kroes’ thinking.
According to a report by the Financial Times (FT) in August, the EC was seriously considering a ‘super’ regulator to cover all 28 EU member states. A leaked document, produced by the Directorate General for Competition, said “a true pan-EU regulator would be the most effective solution to remove national divergences”.
FT sources suggested that any new regulator would take over some powers from national bodies, although an EC spokesperson claimed the leaked document referred to an earlier draft of the proposals.
Aside from booting out a single telecoms regulator, the EC press office said there would be no ‘Euro-tariff’ termination rates and no change to the definition of an electronic communications services provider.
There will also be no pan-European spectrum licences, perhaps reflecting the logistical difficulties of making this happen.
However, the commission wants better spectrum coordination so pan-EU business models and companies can exist.
In EC press materials, however, details on how this would work in practice are scant. The EC is nonetheless proposing a new power “to review national assignment procedures and timetables”.
On mobile roaming premiums, which Kroes wants to scrap, the EC says companies can avoid regulation if they phase out roaming from 2014. Kroes’ aim is to get rid of incoming roaming call charges by the end of 2014
Other proposals designed to shape a single EU telecoms market include standardised access products, net neutrality and more transparent consumer contracts, plus greater rights to switch provider or contract if desired. The EC wants to enshrine new and fully harmonised user rights
Speaking at the European parliament in Brussels in July, Kroes claimed that having a competitive single EU telecoms market could boost the region’s economy by €110 billion a year.
“Quality communications for business could be worth €800 billion over 15 years,” she added. “Broadband could create two million jobs. This is investing in tomorrow’s growth.”
Kroes further argued Europe’s telecoms and ICT sectors are not as competitive as they once were, hampered as they are by border checkpoints.
“The rest of the world is racing ahead,” said the EU digital chief. “America, Japan, Korea have 88 per cent of the world’s 4G subscriptions; the EU has just 6 per cent. Meanwhile, only 2 per cent of European homes have superfast broadband.”