A single market Vicente Barcelo Varona
This month’s big telecoms news in Europe came, care of Neelie Kroes, the EU’s digital agenda commissioner. Her proposals, the ‘Connected Continent’ package, aim to bring Europe up to speed with other parts of the world such as the US and South Korea which are much further advanced. She is calling for a single market where telecoms companieshave an easier entry into new markets through a single licence. She is also keen to help consumers have a cheaper service. Roaming charges, for example, should be scrapped, she says. However, companies could charge higher prices for premium services such as higher speed.
Ms Kroes said of the package: ‘The legislation proposed ...is great news for the future of mobile and internet in Europe. The European Commission says no to roaming premiums, yes to net neutrality, yes to new jobs. Fixing the telecoms sector is no longer about this one sector but about supporting the sustainable development of all sectors. “
Full and fair access
The key provisions include full and fair access to mobile and international services which will see the end of providers levying roaming charges on their customers for calls outside the customer’s home Member state. It also seeks to remove and prohibit “international” call premiums and reduce calls between states. Companies would have to justify their costs and would no longer be able to seek arbitrary profits.
Secondly, the Commission is looking for legal protection for open internet with a full and fair internet access for consumers. The proposals would ban blocking and throttling of internet content with users having access to the full and open internet regardless of the cost or speed of their internet subscription.
Companies still able to provide “specialized services” with assured quality (such as IPTV, video on demand, apps including high-resolution medical imaging, virtual operating theatres, and business-critical data-intensive cloud applications) so long as this did not interfere with the internet speeds promised to other customers. 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.
New consumer rights
There will also be new consumer rights, with all rights harmonized across Europe and customers gaining improved and harmonised consumer rights when signing contracts with suppliers.The new draft also calls for a Co-ordinated spectrum assignment and a single EU authorisiation. This will ensure Europeans get more 4G mobile access and Wi-Fi. Mobile operators will be able to develop more efficient and cross-border investment plans, thanks to stronger coordination of timing, duration and other conditions of assignment of spectrum. Member States would remain in charge, and continue to benefit from related fees from mobile operators, while operating within a more coherent framework. Such a framework will also expand the market for advanced telecoms equipment.
Not universal acclaim
The proposals to overhaul the European telecom market have not met with universal acclaim. Some say the proposals do not encourage investment in networks and that innovation will be stifled with new players unable to enter the market because of the high price of entry. Others point out that whilst the US has better connectivity, it is much more expensive.
The Commission’s next step will be to seek approval from the European Parliament and the member States for the ‘Connected Continent’ package with the first changes likely to take effect in mid-2014.