Telecoms Review Consultation: Wide in Scope and a Challenge To Deliver?

blue cables 2Europe is having a closer look at its telecom rules after the European Commission asked industry last Friday how they envision telecoms rules and Europe’s broadband needs beyond 2020 in two separate public consultations. With the rules on net neutrality and roaming still to be adopted by Council and the European Parliament, Telcos and Internet companies get no breathing space to make their case on regulatory level playing field and spectrum management questions. For both sides the stakes are high to win over European regulators and lawmakers.

Industry players will have their hands full until the Christmas period: Although the beginning of an intense consultation process had been anticipated, the scope of the Commission’s queries is somewhat surprising. In a total of 146 pages and 234 questions, it expects stakeholders from several industries to provide an evaluation of current telecoms rules, suggest changes and predict future trends and bottlenecks in the provision of communications services.

Should stakeholders manage to deliver these answers by 7 December 2015, official deadline for responses, then the Commission services will face the daunting task of analysing third party input to provide an evaluation report of the current regulatory regime and propose new legislation in 2016.

The scope of the issues covered by the consultations is wide.

Participants to the consultation for the telecoms review are asked to comment – among others – on current and future rules on:

  1. Network access, including ex-ante rules on competition in local markets, switching from copper to fibre networks and future technology trends;
  2. Better coordination and flexibility in spectrum management across the EU, through further harmonisation of spectrum usage. The Commission says it does not want a share from spectrum auctions, but Member States find it difficult to believe the Commission;
  3. Levelling the playing field between telecoms operators and OTTs who provide voice/messaging services;
  4. Whether and how broadband could become part of universal service obligations and to which extend the shift from fixed to mobile communications changes the way universal service should be provided and financed;
  5. Possible improvements in the governance structure of BEREC, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, and national regulators, including the possibility for an EU-wide regulatory authority for e-communications.

As expected, through the telecoms review the Commission intends to carefully re-launch the debate on some key policy areas such as spectrum, users’ rights and Europe’s institutional set up and achieve reform where it failed with the Telecoms Single Market proposal.

It moreover addresses industry calls to consider de-regulating telecoms operators, extending sector-specific rules to new players, such as internet companies, and addressing changing consumer behaviour and increasing demand for bandwidth capacity. The Commission hopes that a comprehensive reform will trigger private investment in next generation networks, boosting growth, jobs and the global competitiveness of Europe’s telecoms industry.

The stakes are also high for the European Commission. It will have to evaluate the positions of stakeholders in a timely manner to be able to  present a legislative proposal in 2016 as announced in the Digital Single Market Strategy by Vice President Ansip and Commissioner Oettinger. However, more importantly, it will have to develop realistic proposals which would secure support by industry while not irritating member states and the European Parliament.

The time has come for all interested stakeholders to engage in a fact-based dialogue for the future of the communications landscape in Europe. However, responding to the consultation will not be enough. Companies will have to develop a concrete and elaborate advocacy and communications strategy to cut through the noise and be heard. Otherwise their positions risk being lost in summaries of consultation responses, failing to shape the debate on future rules affecting their business models.

Orestis Kalliantzidis is Consultant in FTI Consulting’s ICT team in Brussels.

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