Two weeks ago Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda, scored one of her biggest victories: The European Parliament backed her proposal for a single European telecom market.
Since the birth of the Common Market 22 years ago, most of the trade barriers on goods and services have disappeared within the EU, except in areas such as energy, banking, and telecommunications. These sectors are heavily regulated by member states, and incumbent telcos are lobbying to keep competitors from entering their home markets. With the new regulation, most of those barriers will disappear, and consumer rights will be protected across the EU.
The Commission press release states:
The Telecoms Regulation was proposed by the Commission in September 2013. It aims to bring us much closer to a truly single market for telecoms in the EU, by ending roaming charges, guaranteeing an open internet for all by banning blocking and degrading of content, coordinating spectrum licensing for wireless broadband, giving internet and broadband customers more transparency in their contracts, and making it easier for customers to switch providers.
The new Telecoms Regulation will protect consumers with rules that include the following:
- Consumer contracts must specify the minimum service quality levels, as well as compensation and refunds if these levels are not met.
- Higher standards of data protection for personal data stored or transmitted over the telecommunication network.
- The right to change telecom operator without changing phone number in a single day.
- Consumers will not pay more roaming charges by the end of 2015.
- They will receive reasonable quality of service at affordable prices, regardless of geographical location.
- They will have the right to share their wireless services with other users -- such as sharing their Internet connections -- without providers' interference.
- End-users shall be free to access and distribute information and content, run applications, and use services of their choice via their Internet access services.
- Users will be able to cancel their wireless contracts after six months, and no compensation for the provider shall be due other than for the residual value of subsidized equipment bundled with the contract.
- Users can request a limit on their monthly service charges, and should be informed when their consumption reaches 80% of the set limit.
And it will make it easier for telecom providers to compete and operate in different markets:
- There will be a single telecom regulator. Carriers will be able to apply for permits to operate in another member state in their own country, and rules for competition and access to the incumbents' networks will be unified across the EU.
- Virtual network operators (VNOs) will have freedom to use any national operator to provide services to their users, and no incumbent carrier can deny access to their networks. This also applies to local loop unbundling.
Not surprisingly, incumbent telcos are not entirely happy with the new Telecoms Regulation. Companies such as Telefonica, France Telecom, Telecom Italia, and Deutsche Telekom worry that competition from smaller carriers will eat their profit margins in the wealthy European markets and pose a threat to their investments in new infrastructure -- especially in wireless networks -- which they are required to share with small competitors.
Also, providers won't be able to restrict the use of VoIP and streaming services as they do now, and the concept of net neutrality is firmly wired in the directive.
The current Commission's term of office runs until Oct. 31, 2014, and Kroes wants her Digital Agenda for Telecoms to be approved before her mandate runs out. I hope she succeeds.
Video from the EU Commission:
— Pablo Valerio is a freelance blogger who writes about mobile and telecom issues for EE Times He lives and works in Barcelona.