Digital Single Market
Digital Economy & Society

Q&A - Commission launches a 360° review of telecoms rules and seeks views about future needs for Internet speed and quality

Article
Questions and answers on the two public consultations: on Europeans' broadband needs and on the review of the current telecoms framework.

Why launching these consultations?

The two telecoms consultations - on telecoms and broadband needs - are an important part of the Commission's strategy for a Digital Single Market, including an ambitious overhaul of EU telecoms rules planned for 2016. They are also vital inputs to the ongoing Regulatory fitness and performance programme (REFIT) evaluation of the EU's telecoms rulebook.

The overall aim is to ensure that the EU has a regulatory environment which is:

  • sustainable,
  • market-based,
  • high-performance for fixed and wireless broadband infrastructures,
  • creating the rules that are fit for purpose for 2020 and beyond.

This requires:

  • effective spectrum coordination, and common EU-wide criteria for spectrum assignment at national level;
  • creating incentives for investment in high-speed broadband;
  • ensuring a level playing field for all market players, traditional and new;
  • creating the effective telecoms rules.

The Commission is therefore carrying out a 360° review of the existing rules which will help to prepare regulatory proposals for 2016. The scope of this review includes key EU sector legislations:

  • Framework Directive (2002/21/EC),
  • Authorisation Directive (2002/20/EC),
  • Access Directive (2002/19/EC),
  • Universal Service Directive (2002/22/EC)) as modified in 2009 by the Better Regulation Directive (Directive 2009/140/EC),
  • Citizens' Rights Directive (Directive 2009/136/EC),
  • BEREC Regulation (Regulation 1211/2009).

What has changed since 2009?

The current EU telecoms rules, which help to open-up the telecom markets, free up bottlenecks and enabled access to key inputs, give access to networks and spectrum, have promoted competition, allowing customers to reap significant benefits in terms of choice and prices. National markets offer customers a variety of services and tariffs, enabling them to choose services that best correspond to their needs and permit swift and easy change of providers.

In 2010, the Digital Agenda established EU broadband targets which quickly became a reference point for National Broadband Plans throughout Europe.

Five years on, there has been significant progress in terms of broadband roll-out across Europe. All EU households now have access to a basic broadband connection (see IP/13/968), Next Generation Access (NGA) fixed-line technologies capable of providing at least 30 Mbps are available to 68% of EU households (end 2014). However, with about 6% of homes subscribing to a 100 Mbps broadband connection, achieving the 50% take-up target remains still challenging.

More details about EU broadband connectivity.

Why do we need to review the rules?

In parallel to the developments in supply since 2009, consumer demands, habits and expectations have changed even more dramatically, largely fuelled by the proliferation of smart devices. Worldwide, consumer Internet traffic grew 26% in 2013. Until now, this has largely been driven by video-based usage. For example, the number of hours people are watching YouTube per month is up 50% year-on-year, while 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. It is estimated that Internet video traffic will reach the equivalent of 16 billion DVDs per month, or 22 million DVDs per hour by 2018.

People need to be connected not only at home and at work, but also on the move. As a result, our societies are becoming increasingly dependent on high-speed Internet. The use of Cloud services, the Internet of Things, the data economy, the abundance of content, increasingly cheaper and smarter mobile devices are expected to accelerate this trend.

The Commission will therefore examine whether the current rules, designed to liberalise former monopoly networks and services, sufficiently incentivise all market players to meet tomorrow's high-capacity demands across the whole Union.

What is the consultation on future Internet speed and quality about?

The first public consultation on future Internet speed and quality asks respondents to reflect about:

  • which of their future products and services will depend on connectivity;
  • needs related to downloading and uploading data,
  • required speed and other quality features like latency,
  • ubiquitous connectivity,
  • security.

The Commission is seeking views not only from the telecom specialists, but also from citizens, organisations, public bodies, and businesses from all sectors - from agriculture to ICT, from education to automotive, from services and industry, especially those that develop applications and services that depend on connectivity.

What does the consultation on the review of the 2009 Telecoms Package address?

The Commission asks respondents for input on five key challenges:

  • Network access regulation: The review will assess whether the regulatory objectives are still fit for purpose or whether they should be complemented with a stronger emphasis on availability and take-up of high-quality connectivity as a policy objective. It will ask whether the operators who are investing significant amounts of money in the very highest capacity networks need greater assurances of a long-term return on investment. The difficulty in relying on infrastructure competition to drive network investment in more rural areas points to a possible need to reassess the appropriate degree of complementarity between sector-specific access regulation and other measures which could enable efficient public intervention.
  • Spectrum management: to promote the deployment of high speed wireless networks and the further development of electronic communications and innovation, the review should focus on how greater consistency could be achieved by different means and through different levels of harmonisation or coordination (more efficient technical harmonisation; more convergent assignment conditions and timing to support investment);
  • Communication Services: to look at ways of updating sector-specific rules if they are still needed, while ensuring a level regulatory playing field for all players to the extent that they provide comparable services.
  • Universal service: the review will evaluate whether the current scope of mandatory services is consistent with market and technological developments. In particular, the role of broadband as part of universal service and its implications for the financing mechanism will have to be carefully assessed.
  • Institutional set-up and governance: this covers the need to enhance regulatory consistency across the Member States and to deliver convergent market outcomes while taking account of different local and national conditions. The review will explore more efficient and simpler arrangements for co-operation between regulators at EU and national level.

Is the public consultation the only way for the Commission to gather evidence for the evaluation of the telecoms rules and broadband needs?

No. In the coming months the Commission will discuss telecom issues at meetings and workshops with Ministries, European Parliament committees, the regulatory community, users and the industry at large.

What is the timeline?

This public consultation will run until 7 December 2015. Following the consultation the Commission will complete the evaluation and will present in 2016 its proposal on how to address the identified challenges in telecoms and Internet speed and quality.