Monday, November 12, 2007

European Commission Proposes Single European Telecoms Market/Regulator

The European Commission officially adopted proposals for a reform of the EU telecoms rules with the aim of creating a single European telecom market with a consistent set of regulations covering consumers in all 27 EU Member States. The plan calls for a new European Telecom Market Authority to govern national telecoms regulators in ensuring that market rules and consumer regulation are applied consistently, independently and without protectionism. To become law, the Commission proposals will now need to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers. The European Commission believes the approval could be attained by the end of 2009.

Specific components of the reform proposal include:

  • New consumer rights such as the right to switch telecoms operators within 1 day; the right to transparent and comparable price information; the possibility to call freephone numbers from abroad; and a more effective single European emergency number 112.

  • More consumer choice through more competition, especially by giving national telecoms regulators the new remedy of functional separation for dominant telecom operators.

  • More security in using communication networks, especially through new instruments to fight against spam, viruses and other cyber attacks.

  • A "New Deal" for radio spectrum to spur investment into new infrastructures and to ensure "broadband access for everyone". In rural areas of the EU, only 72% of the population on average have broadband access. The Commission seeks to overcome this "digital divide" by better managing radio spectrum and by making spectrum available for wireless broadband services in regions where building a new fibre infrastructure is too costly. The switchover from analogue to digital TV will free a substantial amount of radio spectrum (the so-called "digital dividend") that can be used for this purpose.

  • Better regulation in telecoms by deregulating those markets where EU-driven market-opening has already led to competition ; this will allow the Commission and national regulators to focus on the main bottlenecks, such as the broadband market.

  • More independent watchdogs to guarantee fair regulation in the interest of consumers. Too often, telecoms regulators are still close to the dominant operator that continues to be partly owned by the national government in many countries. The EU Telecoms Reform wants to strengthen the independence of national telecoms watchdogs from operators and governments alike.

  • Continued policy of Functional Separation, which requires an incumbent operator to separate its network infrastructure from the units offering services using this infrastructure. Although operationally separate business entities are created, overall ownership remains unchanged; functional separation is therefore an instrument that needs to be distinguished from structural separation which the EC is currently introducing in the energy sector.

  • A new European Telecom Market Authority will be established to ensure that important communication services (such as internet broadband access, data roaming, mobile phone usage on planes and ships and cross-border business services) are regulated more consistently across the 27 EU Member States. The European Telecom Market Authority will more effectively combine the functions of the current European Regulators Group (ERG) and of the current European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA).

"From today onwards, a single market without borders for Europe's telecoms operators and consumers is no longer only a dream," said José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission. "Telecoms is a field where our single market can bring about very concrete results for every citizen in terms of more choice and lower prices, whether for mobile phones or for broadband internet connections. At the same time, a single market with 500 million consumers opens new opportunities for telecoms operators -- if Europe helps to ensure effective competition and consistent rules of the game. This is why we act today. A more European regulatory approach is particularly justified in telecoms. After all airwaves know no borders. And the internet protocol has no nationality."

Viviane Reding, the EU Telecoms Commissioner said: "Today's telecoms reform proposals put Europe's citizens centre stage. In the past, Europe has made substantial progress by opening telecoms markets to new players and by progressively ensuring more competition. However, dominant telecoms operators, often still protected by government authorities, remain in control of critical market segments, especially of the broadband market. This restricts consumers' freedom of choice. 10% of EU citizens still have no broadband access at all. This is why new consumer rights, a new dose of competition, an effective system of independent telecoms regulators, new investment into competitive infrastructures and more space for new wireless services are needed to put Europe's digital economy on track."http://www.europa.eu

See also