Today, I launched two public consultations – one on review of the current telecoms framework and one on Europeans' broadband needs - as an important part of the Commission's strategy for a Digital Single Market. With the first consultation on future Internet speed and quality needs, are asking Europeans what they expect from their fixed and mobile networks beyond 2020. I already discussed these issues in a blog post back in April. The second one is on regulatory reform. Here are my thoughts on what the review of the rules must address.
The EU's telecoms rulebook is often criticised for not doing enough to support the transition towards Next Generation Access (NGA) networks. The principle that competition drives investment is not under question, but the sheer size of the investment required for digital age forces us to reflect.
In areas where competition is already driving infrastructure investment, we should focus our regulation on real bottlenecks; simplifying, and making it more consistent across countries. We must make investments in the highest capacity networks rewarding and consider how regulation could increase incentives for incumbents and more recent competitors. We should reward those who take risks and build future-proof digital networks by letting them use that comparative advantage in competition with others. Public authorities also need more tools to encourage operators to roll out networks in areas where GDP, population density, digital literacy make investment less attractive.
Spectrum reform is not about removing competences from the Member States. I want revenues from auctions to remain exclusively with Member States. But the challenge of how to cover the most inaccessible areas and realise public-interest objectives requires special thinking. If we are serious about a digital single market and efficient spectrum use, we need a common European approach to network coverage and performance.
We also need to fully support innovation given that, very soon, every conceivable device will connect with others and to the network using a variety of different wireless technologies. We have to find ways to streamline the technical harmonisation process to render it more efficient and objective, and more accessible.
We can no longer rely on a spectrum regime that was constructed back in the digital dark ages. Certain services – like Satellite - can and should be provided on a pan-European basis. It makes no sense for services to be subject to 28 different authorisation procedures across Europe.
Providers of equipment, devices, online services and users – need European networks to evolve at a fast pace and keep up with exploding demand. We need quick, coordinated assignment of 4G and 5G - spectrum bands. Operators need investment certainty when it comes to the timing and conditions of license renewal.
Service regulation and a level playing field
Here we need to distinguish between internet access service and raw connectivity. For internet access service, earlier this summer we reached a major political agreement on the principle of net neutrality.
Building on this, our review will consider if we still need sector-specific rules for telecoms services and how far we can rely on other legislation such as general consumer protection rules or the eCommerce Directive. If we identify a continuing or new regulatory need, we will ensure fair competition between all digital players who provide comparable communications services.
Finally, our review will look at the institutional set-up and governance in the digital single market. This is not about increasing Commission powers, as some people fear. Where we need common rules, we need consistent application throughout the digital single market. Regulatory bodies, the way they interact and the whole institutional set-up must be efficient and work towards an EU vision of connectivity. Yet, regulatory fragmentation is an unresolved issue, especially for radio spectrum, which is at the foundation of our future broadband connectivity.
I want to hear from all interested parties on these important topics. The debate must not be left for the telecom sector only. I encourage all industries, all sectors and businesses that use or will rely on digital networks, as well as consumers and civil society, to give us their views.