At today’s Telecoms Council, the GSMA called on Ministers to commit to the rapid adoption of the telecoms regulatory framework reforms that will drive investment and create an inclusive “Gigabit Society” across Europe. The European Commission has tabled proposals in a draft European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) that will now form the basis of intensive negotiations between the Council and European Parliament.
“A European leadership position in mobile, and particularly in 5G, will advance the Digital Single Market and will help connect everyone and everything to a better future. Regulatory modernisation is critical to achieving this and the draft Code provides a solid platform for this,” said Afke Schaart, Vice President Europe for the GSMA. “These reforms are not just about what operators want, they are about what our economy and society need to reap the full benefits of the digital opportunities ahead of us. The Commission’s proposals are a good starting point and we call on the Ministers to carry forward this work with a particular focus on prioritising investment and supporting vital reform of EU spectrum policy.”
In conjunction with today’s Telecoms Council meeting, the GSMA published a detailed position paper on the reform proposals [link]. This report stresses overall support for the Commission’s intent and focus, while proposing improvements in certain key areas:
Spectrum management has to be consistent and long-term oriented
Greater policy harmonisation could improve the quality, reach and adoption of mobile broadband services and support the EU’s Digital Single Market objectives:
- Longer spectrum licence durations, a stronger presumption of renewal and greater consistency in licencing approaches, as proposed in the draft Code, increase operators’ incentives to invest. Together with technology and service neutrality and reduced barriers to spectrum trading, these measures will encourage investment in mobile networks and will result in more advanced mobile services and more efficient use of spectrum.
- Coverage obligations need to be realistic from an investment perspective, clearly defined prior to licensing and must not be subject to unilateral change by NRAs post-licensing, as envisioned in the current draft.
- When assessing competition issues in the context of spectrum licenses, Member States should apply the same standards as they do in the SMP (significant market power) framework. However, the Code foresees the inclusion of access obligations in licences and proposes the imposition of remedies through spectrum auctions, which is at odds with the standard SMP market analysis.
- The Code sets out proposals that prioritise licence-exempt use and spectrum sharing, at the expense of individual licence authorisations to dedicated spectrum. The text needs to be more balanced to reflect the importance of internationally-harmonised, dedicated mobile spectrum in meeting demanding quality of service targets, and the concept of spectrum sharing needs to applied to specifically relevant situations, such as where a band is inefficiently used or where there is scope for licensed shared access to allow several mobile operators to share future millimetre wave bands for 5G.
- Whilst further coordination and cooperation is required for certain key aspects of spectrum management, Member States do need a degree of national flexibility to adjust for local conditions.
Europe needs a step change in investment to match its digital ambitions
The GSMA welcomes the connectivity objective and encourages the co-legislators to closely follow it throughout the provisions. The development of a “Gigabit Society”, with ultrafast connectivity and sustainable competition in the medium and long term, depends on a regulatory framework that favours investment:
- The ultimate objective of the proposed Code should be to maximise the contribution of the telecoms sector to the economic development of the EU and its competitiveness for the benefits of its citizens.
- The proposed Code should be established through a functionality-based, dynamic and bottom-up approach.
- Regulatory measures must be proportionate and solve specific problems in a much more targeted manner, with simplification being a key goal.
- The Code should avoid introducing further uncertainties for operators and investors in mobile markets, and better take into account existing obligations, such as those contained in spectrum licenses.
EECC’s ultimate objective is to empower as well as to protect end users
The proposed Code aims to re-establish the European Union as a digital leader, and bring further benefits for end users. It is time to truly empower end users by implementing a framework that will provide a sound platform for the ongoing digital revolution:
- The Code should further harmonise consumer protection rules across digital sectors.
- Consumer protection need to be based on a functional perspective; for consumers, it is irrelevant how the communication service is provided – they expect to receive a good service from all providers. Therefore, consumers’ rights to information, terms and conditions should not vary according to the type of service they choose, and should not be dependent on the Member State from which the service is provided.
- The Internet of Things will employ machine-to-machine (M2M) services at a scale the industry has not seen before. To enable European companies to pursue this opportunity, the regulatory environment needs to recognise the specificities of M2M services, and not subject them to end-user protection rules that are only appropriate and reasonable in the context of interpersonal communications.