Commission claims telecoms rules balance need for fairness and investment

Out-Law News | 23 Sep 2010 | 4:57 pm | 2 min. read

The European Commission has published rules that telecoms watchdogs across the EU will be expected to follow when regulating the building of superfast broadband networks.

The Commission said that the rules would ensure that the same principles would be applied across Europe, and said that such EU-wide regulation was necessary to balance the need to encourage major firms to build infrastructure but also to avoid the kinds of telecoms monopolies that developed in the past.

"Europe needs both investment incentives and competition to get these high speed and modern networks rolled-out," said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, announcing the rules. "Why? Because although telecom operators have to realise huge investments to deploy next generation fibre networks, we cannot take the risk that this fundamental transition may lead to a re-monopolisation of telecom networks, losing the benefits that competition has brought so far."

"We must therefore take a balanced approach, because we need both incumbent operators and new market entrants to attain such important goals. Only a mix of the two will concentrate the resources and the energy needed for these investments and competitive broadband services," she said.

Kroes said that the Telecommunications Framework Directive requires national telecoms regulators to comply with 'Commission Recommendations' such as the one just published.

The Recommendation also deals with the use to which radio spectrum freed by the switch-off of analogue television signals should be put and plans to encourage private investment in broadband networks.

Kroes was outlining the three measures that the Commission will take to attempt to meet its targets of ensuring universal access to broadband networks in Europe by 2013 and to superfast, or next generation access (NGA), networks by 2020.

"Europe currently has some of the highest broadband penetration rates in the world. But still only one quarter of Europeans have broadband connections. What is more - the rest of the world is catching up and often has better quality networks," said Kroes. "I cannot sit by and allow our businesses to continue to compete against Asian businesses with internet 100 times faster than our own."

"Today the Digital Agenda for Europe moves from 'vision' to 'concrete action'," said Kroes.

Kroes told a separate meeting of telecoms operators that the Commission would not relax competition rules demanding that they share access to any networks they build.

"The Commission's Recommendation does not and could not grant regulatory holidays for NGA networks," she told the Annual Conference of European Telecommunications Network Operators Association. "Such holidays are not possible under our regulatory framework and, most importantly, would be against the interest of European citizens and business that benefit, and should continue to benefit, from competitive broadband offers."

She told operators that for telecoms companies deemed to have significant market power, regulators must demand that they open up the networks they have built to competitors on a cost-oriented basis.

Kroes said that when it came to the radio spectrum that is increasingly being used for wireless internet access, greater European co-ordination than ever was needed, which the Commission would oversee.

"It is clear that we need EU-wide coordination of some key aspects of radio spectrum policy to cater for the growing demand for wireless broadband and other new technologies," she said. "Without such a framework, broadband for all is not feasible. I am thinking here not only of those in remote or rural areas dependent on wireless access, but also consumers and businesses that increasingly want and require broadband access whilst on the move."

The Commission will recommend that the European Parliament and Council of Ministers approve a five year plan to manage radio spectrum.

The Commission also asked EU countries to produce their own plans outlining how best to encourage the private investment needed to build superfast broadband networks.

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