European citizens and businesses rely more and more on convenient, reliable and high quality telecoms networks and services. Today there are more than 250 million daily internet users in Europe, and virtually every European owns a mobile phone. The competition rules work side by side with regulation specific to the telecoms sector to bring innovative, affordable services to European consumers.
The Commission's Flagship Initiative on a Digital Agenda for Europe, launched in August 2010, sets out the Commission's priorities in the field of the digital economy and highlights the creation of a single market for content and telecom services as a vital tool to regain progress lost during the economic crisis.
In particular, the Commission aims to bring to near zero the difference between roaming and national tariffs by 2015. It also sets ambitious targets for fast and ultra-fast internet access in Europe.
The European Commission has worked successfully to increase competition in this area, bringing new entrants into the telecoms sector throughout Europe, forcing incumbent providers to raise their standards of service and reduce their prices, and applying the competition rules to maintain competition between telecoms operators. All of these actions are vital to continued growth in the sector.
The Directorate-General for Competition – in cooperation with national competition authorities – ensures that telecoms networks and services can expand and innovate, by safeguarding a level playing field in and access to the IT and telecoms markets. This means applying the general EU competition rules on
- Antitrust: prohibiting anti-competitive agreements or abuse of dominant positions
- State aid: prohibiting certain types of State aid that distort competition
- Mergers: prohibiting mergers that would significantly impede competition on a market.
All of these rules apply to the telecoms sector, where the Commission's most recent action was the opening of a formal investigation in January 2011 into a possible violation of EU competition rules by Telefónica and Portugal Telecom, who are suspected of agreeing not to compete with each other in their respective home markets (IP/11/58).
For more detail on the Commission's activities in this area, please see the Commission's Annual Report on Competition Policy for 2010.
Other Commission activities
The EU regulatory framework for electronic communications was revised in 2009, providing for new consumer rights, more consumer choice and better protection of privacy.
Other strategies with an impact on telecommunications include EU 2020 and the Digital Agenda for Europe – one of whose key priorities is speeding up the spread of high-speed internet by encouraging investment in broadband and fibre-based networks.