The European Commission has unveiled the outline of what it is calling “its most ambitious plan in 26 years of telecoms market reform".
The “Connected Continent” legislative package was launched by EC President Jose Manual Barroso in his 2013 State of the Union speech on Wednesday.
It contains six major areas of proposed reform, but stopped short of a full telecoms single market for Europe. The main points are:
1. A new “single authorization” to simplify rules for operators
As expected, there is to be no single European super regulator. Instead, a single authorization will give operators the chance to operate in all 28 member states rather than having to seek 28 separate authorisations.
Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in her blog accompanying the press statement that while a single EU regulator would be “the most logical solution”, the Body of European Regulators will get a full-time professional chair with a three-year term. Currently, the chair is rotated every six months.
Further, the EC statement went on to say that “a demanding legal threshold” for regulating telecoms sub-markets and further harmonization of wholesale access would come into force.
2. End to roaming and international call premiums
Incoming call charges while travelling in the EU will be banned from 1 July next year. Instead, phone plans could apply across Europe or rival operators could offer separate plans in a process known as decoupling.
In addition, operators will no longer be allowed to charge a premium for fixed and mobile calls made from a consumer’s home country to other EU countries. The price will be pegged at €0.19 per minute.
3. Net neutrality enshrined in law
The blocking and throttling of internet content would be banned, although there is scope for the provision of certain “specialized services” with assured quality – the EC name-checked IPTV, VoD and business-critical cloud apps – so long as this did not interfere with internet speeds promised to other customers.
Further, customers have the right to check if they are receiving the speeds they pay for. The Netherlands has adopted net neutrality already.
4. Coordinated spectrum assignment
Mobile operators will be able to develop more efficient and cross-border investment plans, the EC said, thanks to “stronger coordination of timing, duration and other conditions of assignment of spectrum”.
This will lead to more 4G LTE and WiFi access for customers, the EC promised. However, member states would remain in charge of spectrum allocation.
5. New pan-European consumer rights
Here, the EC promises amendments such as the right to a 12-month contract and the right to walk away from a contract if promised internet speeds do not materialize.
6. More certainty for investors
The EC said it aimed to provide further guarantees to investors around the wholesale access promised in Point 1.
“The legislation proposed today is great news for the future of mobile and internet in Europe,” commented Kroes. “The European Commission says no to roaming premiums, yes to net neutrality, yes to investment, yes to new jobs.
“Fixing the telecoms sector is no longer about this one sector but about supporting the sustainable development of all sectors.”
However, the GSMA said the proposed reforms did not go far enough and had suffered as a result of the requirement to accelerate procedures to match the pace set by the legislative timetable.
“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 of the 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.”
More reaction to follow