As the European Commission (EC) prepares to launch a wide-reaching public consultation on future telecoms regulation, Andrus Ansip, vice president for the Digital Single Market, spoke to FierceWireless:Europe about the challenges those updated rules must meet.
The EC will open the 12 week consultation this month, in a bid to deliver new telecoms regulations that the Commission deems "fit for purpose for 2020 and beyond," It will do this by encouraging operators to invest in fixed and mobile broadband networks, providing rules covering new communication services, and by offering consistency in telecom market rules across the European Union's (EU) 28 member states.
Ansip told FW:E that it is essential future regulations promote affordable access to fixed and mobile broadband networks. Such access will be necessary to provide a vibrant e-commerce market, and new services including telemedicine, e-government, and even connected cars.
The commissioner said he hopes there is a widespread response to the consultation. "Although the telecoms regulation has a direct impact on the environment in which telecoms companies operate, the consequences affect us all," he noted.
The growing reliance of Europe's economy on ICT means that "telecoms regulation matters to all economic actors and cannot be left to telecoms specialists only."
The commissioner said that the EC is addressing current fragmentation in telecoms regulations in an ongoing review of regulations brought into force in 2009.
"We will tackle regulatory fragmentation to reap [the] full potential of an EU-wide telecoms market in which players active at a multi-territorial or pan-European scale would compete with innovative local providers relying largely on their own infrastructure," Ansip said.
Updated rules should "enhance regulatory consistency across Member States," Ansip said, explaining that the "EU's institutional set-up needs to deliver convergent market outcomes while taking account of different local and national conditions."
Spectrum fragmentation is a key element in promoting regulatory consistency. While Ansip said that member states should continue to benefit from the revenues generated from spectrum sales and auctions, he noted that the region needs "a more harmonised management of radio spectrum at EU level, given its vital importance for connectivity."
Ansip said the value of "spectrum-enabled services" is set to grow from one that is worth around €500 billion ($559 billion) per year at present, to one that "will be up to approximately €1 trillion by 2023."
However, Ansip is realistic about the challenges of delivering the goals of the Digital Single Market, noting that "many Europeans, especially in rural areas, still don't have access to wireless broadband services."
Ansip conceded that "delays in granting authorisations to use spectrum" for 4G services means that investment in LTE networks is "lagging behind" other developed markets. While 79 per cent of Europeans now have access to 4G, Ansip noted that access in rural areas "is still a paltry 27 per cent."
The vice president noted that networks are just one part of building a single digital market for Europe. The region must also remove "barriers that prevent people and businesses from reaping the full benefits the internet offers," such as problems affecting cross-border deliveries that mean that most consumers (44 per cent) still make purchases within their own nation.
Removing geographical and other barriers to e-commerce will inevitably lead to an increase in digital demand, Ansip argued. "Europe's telecommunications systems, networks and industry need to be ready to cope," he warned.
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