Connected Continent proposals

Added by Chris Pateman | Sunday 1st September 2013

EU Vice-President Neelie Kroes and her ‘digital Europe’ agenda don’t normally feature prominently on FCS’s Christmas card list. But credit where it’s due: her latest proposals would drive a coach and horses through mainland Europe’s swathe of protectionist national interests in the fixed line and broadband markets. They mark both her swansong and her finest hour.

Under the slogan ‘Building a connected continent’, Ms Kroes proposes mandatory access to competitive wholesale products on all EU national networks for telcos based in other member states. A single once-off registration/accreditation process so if you’re a CP in one country you can automatically offer services to customers in another. In short, all those single-market principles which are commonplace in just about every other industry in the EU, but still impossible in comms without a lot of cost, hassles and expensive work-arounds.

Britain, despite its flaws, already has Europe’s most open, transparent and sophisticated comms value chain. So our industry would be perfectly poised to benefit. Not only by reducing costs for existing customers with offices in multiple EU countries, but by being able to offer UK-style best-in-class services to businesses in other parts of the EU. I think we can therefore confidently expect to see the whole package rubbished by the vested interests in other member states.

Just before that happens, though, let’s hear what Neelie has to say:

“We are very committed to cutting red tape: making it easier for companies to invest in new networks and new services; to be able to expand across borders. You should not accept complaints that this package is bad for companies. It absolutely is not. They would get a single authorization, quicker and easier access to spectrum, regulation of fewer markets, stable copper prices, one set of consumer rules to follow, a cheaper way for them to get rid of roaming premiums… It is a long list and a good one.

“We need to end roaming, not just reduce the price. The cost of providing data will get cheaper faster than regulation can keep up – price reductions will become a losing game. So the first new step is to ban incoming call charges from 2014. The second new step is to offer companies a cheaper way to deliver EU-wide ‘Roam Like At Home’ plans. If they do this from 2014, they enjoy lighter European regulation
“If your operator does not offer ‘Roam Like At Home’ – you the consumer can take control. You can choose a domestic price plan from the country you travel to when you get there. You don’t need a new number or second bill. It will be possible from your phone. In other words: one way or the other, customers will be able to escape these high charges.

“We will also make calls cheaper from within your home country. Each time you use either your fixed landline or your mobile to call abroad, it should not cost you more than to call within your country. This means that every phone user is a winner from this package.

“You will have other consumer rights, like simpler ways to change contracts and the right to clearer information in those contracts. But the most important new right will be your right to the open internet. We want all Europeans to have guaranteed right to full and open internet – something 96% of Europeans lack today. Blocking and throttling are widespread across the EU; 200 Million subscribers are affected.

“Let me sum all this up:

  • Current trends are unsustainable for the sector, and unsustainable for our whole economy. Without the infrastructure to compete, we aren't going anywhere – in any sector.
  • We hurt consumers, we hurt the economy, we hurt our strategic future if we do not act.
  • This is no longer about little fights on individual issues. The point is the big picture, and the fact that we are all connected.”

This looks like quite the most useful, intelligent and welcome series of proposals we've seen from the Commissioner. Incidentally, it’s also a rather chilling reminder how much more sophisticated and transparent the UK market is than most of our European colleagues.

Neelie’s draft regulation hasn’t got a snowball’s chance of getting into law before the end of this European Parliament, of course – vested interests and national governments will see that it’s talked-out, delayed, appealed against and generally obfuscated into the long grass. But it’s a helpful line in the sand, from which the industry can begin to build its battle lines for the 2014-onwards session.

A Luta continua – the struggle continues!