EU leadership on 5G will depend on the ability of policy makers to think out-of-the-box, and beyond old debates. Instead, they should keep focusing on universal, technology neutral and future proof principles.
On 26th January, the industry and research committee (ITRE) of the European Parliament organised the first hearing on the future of electronic communications following the legislative proposals tabled by the European Commission in September last year.
Listening to the discussion it emerged clearly that the debate is increasingly heating up and that, at least when it comes to the future of pro-competitive access measures, two clear opposite camps are shaping up: on one side, consumers, alternative telecom operators and regulators (BEREC) that ask to maintain the pro-competitive framework that guaranteed high broadband performances and low prices in most EU countries for the last 15 years; and, on the other side, dominant telcos (ETNO and GSMA) and some financial institutions such as HSBC loudly advocating for a deregulatory agenda that would grant higher profits to few selected players and for their investors.
Connected to this policy fight there is a much more strategic ongoing battle, the one on the future of 5G and on the way to ensure EU leadership in the development of this emerging technology. How 5G will finally develop and what will actually deliver is not consensual yet.
A recent study recently published by the European Parliament precisely on this topic raises several concerns and affirms that established telcos are trying to steer current and future 5G policies towards a precise scenario, i.e. 5G as the new generation of mobile communications based on exclusive spectrum licenses (just like 3G and 4G). In this model/scenario only few players share the consumer market for faster and more reliable mobile communications.
But 5G could mean much more than this. The goal that Europe could set for itself is that 5G will finally enable full convergence between fixed and mobile data communication services. On top of this seamless connectivity any provider should be able to create and offer new services, that is the emergence of totally new and innovative platform.
In order to do this, it is essential that policy makers think out-of-the-box in an open manner and that, with this view, they refrain from defining rules today that could set development of 5G on an old path. Policy makers should keep focused on universal, technology neutral and future proof principles.
In this respect competition has played in the past and will play in the future as enabler of innovation and of investments. A pro-competitive framework in terms of access to spectrum resources combined with well-studied regime for spectrum sharing where possible will be crucial to give to Europe its much desired leadership in 5G.
Picture credit: Andrew J. Russell
Broadband competition is not only important for prices and innovation, but also for everyone’s fundamental rights. This is the core message of a new stakeholders’ alliance formed by business users, consumers, digital rights advocates and alternative broadband operators.
In the middle of her primary election campaign a few days ago, Hillary Clinton made her position clear, reacting to a problem that is becoming more and more apparent in the US: prices for high-speed broadband are far too high in most major cities in the United States and three-quarters of US households have at most one option for purchasing the Internet service.
Large telecom/cable corporations are concentrating control over markets while end-users are obliged to pay super high fees as access to internet services becomes increasingly pervasive essential to anyone’s day-to-day life.
This is the outcome of a decision not to regulate broadband access taken by the US Government during the Bush administration. US consumers and SMEs are still paying its consequences.
Despite contradictory evidence, in Europe, large telcos managed to create the perception that EU telecom markets need to look more like the US, where the market is being dominated by large operators, leaving limited or no room for smaller players.
Major EU incumbents claim that prices of telecom services in the EU went far too low because of fierce competition and that the moment has come to get rid of “old” access rules that allegedly would be hindering investments in fibre networks.
The good news is that today a very large group of organisations representing competitive broadband providers, users and end-users of broadband services decided to speak up against the lobbying efforts of dominant telcos.
Business users, consumers, digital rights advocates and alternative broadband providers are calling EU policy makers to save #netcompetition by strengthening the EU pro-competitive frameworks of rules to guarantee that EU citizens will be always the main focus of policy makers.
There is no trade-off between pro-competitive rules and investments in broadband networks. Dominant operators and their shareholders in the financial sector keep boosting the message that without regulatory holidays the transition to Next Generation Networks (NGA) will never be achieved.
Facts prove the opposite: both in the US and in the EU, the full transition to NGA has been completed only in highly competitive densely populated areas. As a matter of fact any private company would avoid investments upgrades if they are not obliged by the threat to lose its customer to competition.
Broadband competition is not only important for prices and innovation: #NetCompetition is important for everyone’s fundamental rights. If broadband was to be deregulated in Europe, we would be confronted to a few gatekeepers which would be able to control our freedom of communication, restricting our human right to receive and impart information.
That is the main reason why digital rights advocates are also calling EU policy makers to work towards more competition in broadband. The number of networks should be high enough to prevent a monopoly control from gatekeepers and let operators compete also on data security and guarantees on citizens’ rights and freedoms.
Today, the European society is raising its voice towards policy makers through the #NetCompetition alliance, urging them to protect and foster broadband competition and user protection against astro-turfed and direct calls for de-regulation.