EC digital market VP slams member states' lack of ambition on telecoms rules

The European Commission's (EC) vice president for the Digital Single Market accused European Union member states of lacking ambition over their failure to establish a common telecoms market for the region.

Andrus Ansip applauded member states for entering negotiations with the European Parliament on Monday (March 23), but said the EU members' goals in those negotiations fall short of the EC's aims to abolish roaming charges, establish strong net neutrality rules, and improve spectrum coordination.

Speaking at an event in Brussels, Ansip said a unified telecoms market is an essential component in achieving the EC's goals for a Digital Single Market throughout Europe.

"We cannot have a Digital Single Market without the necessary backbone of telecommunications," the Commissioner noted, adding: "To start with, we do not yet have a genuine single market for electronics communications. Instead, we have a series of national telecom markets with different supply and demand conditions."

Ansip said he "cannot support the very limited basic allowance of Council's current reply to people's call for the complete abolition of roaming charges. It is a joke."

The Commissioner was referring to a decision by EU member states to delay the introduction of a ban on roaming charges from December 2015 until at least 2018. The proposed ban was approved by the European Parliament in April 2014, but drew heavy criticism from industry associations including the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) and the GSM Association.

Ansip said the Commission "should remember our ultimate aim: the full and swift abolition of roaming surcharges--and not only their reduction."

On net neutrality the Commissioner said there must be "no blocking or throttling" of web access for consumers, and that common rules for net neutrality are necessary "to make sure that the internet is not splintered apart by different rules."

Member states recently agreed to allow some service providers to charge a premium for services including streaming TV on condition that other web traffic is not slowed as a result. The decision came shortly before U.S. authorities ruled to regulate the Internet market as if it was a public utility, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ansip also pointed out that "spectrum is still on our [the EC's] agenda--but not on that of EU member states," despite the "ambition and urgency that EU heads of state gave to the single telecoms market back in October 2013."

The Commissioner also said that EU rules covering the telecoms markets "have succeeded in stimulating competition" but only up to a point. "Europe's telecoms market is still quite splintered. That does not make it easy for investors to put their money into the type of broadband networks that will probably be needed in the future, especially in less densely populated areas."

Ansip concluded by noting that Europe needs to be "brave" when implementing changes to achieve a single telecoms market.

"We cannot stay locked into outdated practices that only benefit a few," he said.

For more:
- read Commissioner Ansip's speech
- view this Wall Street Journal article

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