Brussels has unveiled a European Electronic Communications Code that promises a revised regulatory environment and updates broadband targets as part of its Digital Single Market reform.
The ECC merges existing Framework, Authorisation, Access and Universal Service Directives and has been developed with three new connectivity objectives in mind.
Key public sector organisations, including schools and hospitals, as well as businesses should have access to 1GBps connectivity, while all European households should be able to tap into networks that offer download speeds of at least 100MBps.
Further, 5G should be deployed in all urban areas as well as major roads and railways.
The timeline for all three objectives is 2025.
To achieve them, the ECC has focused attention on investments, consumer rights and spectrum.
The European Commission promised to apply market regulation “only where end-user interest requires it and where commercial arrangements between operators do not deliver competitive outcomes”.
It claimed the ECC “substantially reduces” regulation if rival operators agree to co-invest in networks and makes it easier for smaller players to be part of investment projects.
"First movers" who are willing to financially back networks in less profitable areas, such as remote parts of a country, will get “a more predictable” investment case.
Wholesalers will also get “lighter” access obligations if they are still deemed dominant players in the market.
“By offering access to several service providers, the investor can pool revenues and ensure better returns on capital needed to build infrastructure,” the Commission said.
In concert, the role of national regulators and BEREC, the so-called regulator of regulators, will be reinforced.
National regulators are now required to map network investment intentions and to organise calls for interest for infrastructure deployment in areas where no “very high capacity” network is planned.
BEREC will be boosted with new legally binding powers to ensure that the regulatory framework is applied “consistently”.
The Commission estimated €500 billion would be required to reach its connectivity targets.
By the end of this year it promised to launch a European Broadband Fund to combine private and public investments and support network deployment projects.
When it comes to consumers, access to basic broadband is considered as a universal service for the first time in EU law.
It is up to Member States to ensure that all citizens, particularly vulnerable groups such as the elderly or disabled, can get broadband “at an affordable price”.
In addition, contracts will be made “clearer”, while switching rules will be “improved”.
Finally, OTT players that do not offer phone numbers must ensure that servers and networks are secure, that disabled users have equivalent access to their services, and that users can reach the EU emergency number 112.
The Commission called on the European Parliament and the Council to endorse the proposals “as soon as possible”.
Vodafone was quick off the mark to broadly welcome the proposals.
The UK-based operator issued a statement that said: “We welcome today’s proposal to foster the roll-out of ubiquitous, very high-capacity fibre and 5G broadband infrastructure that Europe needs for its global competitiveness.”
But it said it wanted the Commission “to go one step further” and strengthen the rules on structural separation of incumbents’ retail and wholesale operations.
It added: “We would welcome also a revision upwards of the 100Mbps connectivity target for European households by 2025; if Europe is to embrace fully its Gigabit Society vision and all the economic benefits that will bring, we should set an ambition now for 1 gigabit (1000Mbps) speeds for everyone.”