UPDATED 12/9 12.25PM: EU digital commissioner Neelie Kroes has formally unveiled her controversial reforms package that aims to create a “single European telecoms market” capable of boosting the region’s fortunes. At the core of her plans are the abolition of roaming premiums and guaranteed net neutrality, while Kroes has stated that the concept of a single European regulator – not part of today’s proposal – is something that will become a future reality.
Declaring it to be “its most ambitious plan in 26 years of telecoms market reform,” the European Commission argues that a move towards a single market “is essential for Europe’s strategic interests and economic progress.” It claims that a single telecoms market would increase GDP by nearly €110 billion a year.
For the mobile industry, there are five key proposals that Kroes and her team want to enforce:
Protection for open Internet (net neutrality): The blocking and throttling of internet content would be banned, giving users access to the full and open Internet regardless of the cost or speed of their internet subscription. Consumers would have the right to check if they are receiving the internet speeds they pay for, and to walk away from their contract if those commitments are not met.
“Around 200 million Europeans are blocked from using the full internet today,” claims Kroes. “Everyone in Europe deserves the same right to full internet – today 96 per cent lack this protection. We want all Europeans to have guaranteed the right to full and open internet.”
Pushing roaming premiums out of the market: Incoming call charges while travelling in the EU would be banned from 1 July 2014. Operators would have the choice of offering phone plans that apply everywhere in the EU or they could allow their customers to opt for a separate roaming provider who offers cheaper rates (without having to buy a new SIM card). “One way or the other, customers will be able to escape these high charges,” says Kroes. Mobile calls made across intra-EU countries would not be more than €0.19 per minute.
Simplification of regulation: With the EU telecoms sector operating largely on the basis of 28 national markets at present, Kroes believes there are great barriers to the concept of a telecoms company operating across the whole EU. To that end, she wants to introduce “a single authorisation for operating in all 28 member states (instead of 28 authorisations).”
More coordination of spectrum use: While there’s no plans to introduce a pan-European spectrum license, Kroes does want to see “stronger coordination of timing, duration and other conditions of assignment of spectrum.” Her vision is greater 4G and WiFi access for consumers and the emergence of pan-EU mobile companies with integrated networks. “Member States would remain in charge, and continue to benefit from related fees from mobile operators,” notes the proposal.
Consumer protection: Kroes is pushing for “plain language contracts”, greater rights to switch provider or contract, the right to a 12-month contract (rather than 24) and the right to walk away from a contract if internet speeds are not delivered.
Mobile operator industry association the GSMA was quick to react to the proposals, claiming that Kroes’ plan only tackles some of the issues facing Europe. “The Commission has rightly identified that increased investment in Europe’s telecoms infrastructure is needed to drive progress across all sectors of the economy but, on balance, the package needs to do much more to support this goal,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA. “A more thorough and comprehensive approach is required and the mobile industry stands ready to contribute to efforts to develop an ambitious shared agenda to underpin Europe’s digital economy.”
“Reform today will set the context for investment and innovation in Europe’s digital economy for the next ten years,” continued Bouverot. “It is essential that we get it right and this process should include a comprehensive review of the increasingly outdated regulatory framework for telecoms in Europe. The right policies are ones that encourage investment, enable innovation and help build consumer confidence. We will continue to support efforts to develop these to help drive Europe towards a connected future that meets the expectations of its businesses and consumers.”
The operator community has also released its own individual statements, agreeing with the GSMA’s viewpoint. Operators such as Belgacom, Telefonica, Telenor and Vodafone have expressed appreciation of the proposal but all claimed the actions do not go far enough.
The package has now been formally adopted by the European College of Commissioners and will be reviewed by the European Parliament and European Council, which represents EU member states, before becoming law.
Today’s proposal from Kroes talks very much of this being “a gradual process” and one that will require review. To that end, future reviews should, according to official documentation, “examine the utility of a single EU telecoms regulator.” In a press conference outlining the proposal on Thursday September 12, Kroes went one step further: “I’m certain one day there will be a European regulator but in my opinion it needs to be independent,” she stated.
Future reviews are also likely to address new rules applying to ‘over-the-top’ players competing with traditional telecom companies.