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
On Tuesday European Parliament will vote its position on the Digital Market Strategy (DSM). The raportuer for the text, MEP Kaja Kallas, explains what the legislative assembly is asking the Commission: i.e. more pro-innovation policies, more support to the sharing economy, less digital portectionism.
The Digital Post: What are the main requests laid out in the EP position on the DSM?
Kaja Kallas: The most important aspect of this report is its overarching strong support for innovation- friendly policies and its pro-innovation tone, especially with regard to online platforms. To point out some more specific paragraphs, I would emphasize the digital transformation plan and the big data review which aims to remove barriers to promote innovation in the data driven sector.
TDP: What are the actions, if any, stated in the DSM that the EP would like to be tweaked or on which it has some doubts?
KK: The EP report is sceptical of the Commission’s approach when it comes to platforms and is somewhat critical of the consultation which had leading questions in it. We are not sure if the outcome is the result of open questions or whether it is based on the ones that were a bit leading.
The EP’s report clarifies things that the DSM strategy does not. For example, it is clearly against consolidation in the telecoms sector. Also, the once only principle to be applied in public administration (so not just a pilot project) is brought in, and it goes beyond the strategy on things that we felt were necessary to cover in the report (sharing economy and the digital transformation of the industry for instance).
TDP: How the EP position is supporting sharing economy, as you have stated?
KK: The report shows strong support for the sharing economy and calls for the removal of artificial barriers which hinder its growth. This will enable us to reap the benefits of the digital market and create new opportunities for businesses, citizens, public bodies and consumers.
The report even states that employment laws should be updated to allow new flexible forms of employment to emerge.
TDP: What do you think of the approach of the Commission as regards online platforms?
KK: The consultation launched by the Commission seems to have been more focused on calming down the voices in some member states asking for protectionist measures against American companies.
There is nothing wrong with investigating whether there are problems, but the questions we pose should be open ended and aimed at really understanding the problems. This should not be about protectionism.
photo credit: Dan Mason
One of the key points of the Google antitrust case in Europe is that there are also US companies among the complainants, which contradicts the argument that the EU is adopting a protectionist approach against US innovation, argues MEP Ramon Tremosa.
Have you had any second thoughts about the “Google break-up” motion?
Are we sure Europe is not waging a “protectionist” war against US tech giants as many critics argue?
Ms Vestager has taken an hard line on the Google case. After the first SO sent in April, what do you expect she will do in the following months?
Some critics insist that it remains difficult to determine an anti-competitive behavior in the online search business. What is your view about that?
US tech giants, including Google, are investing more and more millions to influence the European policy. What is your opinion about that?
Ramon Tremosa i Balcells is a Democratic Convergence of Catalonia politician - The Liberal Party in the current government of Cataluña. He follows the Economic and International Trade committee in the EP as well as the USA and Israel Dele. He has a special interest in economics, transport, logistics, trade and competition cases, in particular in the digital market field and the Google antitrust case.
photo credit: brett jordan
The European Parliament is overwhelmingly supporting the European Commission’s plans to complete the Digital Single Market: it is now of utmost importance to act quickly, especially in areas such as frequencies harmonization, says Austrian MEP Paul Rübig. Member states, he argues, should not drag their feet. In the face of the dramatic increase of data usage or the predicted explosion of IoT technologies, if we do not forge an efficient, future-oriented digital single market, we are doomed to loose competitiveness. In order to prevent this scenario, we must also focus on addressing the shortfall in e-skills among Europeans and help SMEs embrace digital technology, concludes Mr. Rübig.
The Digital Single Market strategy lacks focus on digital inclusion and e-skills, says Scottish MEP Catherine Stihler. Nonetheless, she explains, the European Commission has made a step in the right direction but now the real challenge is to translate it into effective legislative measures. As digital is changing all the time and technology is running ahead of us, Europe’s push to unleash the potential of the digital single market ought to be future-proof, argues Mrs Stihler.
Photo credit: Josu Gonzalez
Where does the real balance of power lie in the European Parliament elected in June last year? More specifically, who wields the most influence?
Superficially, of course, it is the Centre-Right European People’s Party as the largest grouping but it does lose 16% of its seats compared to the previous legislature.
The gap now between the second largest grouping, the Socialists and Democrats group, is only 30 seats compared to 81 in the last Parliament.
The S&D group attracted 7 more seats in the 2014 elections but many expected it to come out on top so their improved performance is somewhat qualified. The Liberal group (ALDE) lost almost 20% of its seats and even the Greens lost 9% compared to the 2009 elections.
The big collective winners, of course, were the variety of “anti-EU/anti-establishment” groupings of the extreme left and right accounting, depending on your definition, for 25-30% of the total membership.
But here again, their weight has been mitigated as the mainstream groupings have successfully kept them out of any real positions of influence in the Parliament and many of these parties remain fragmented.
But enough about basic statistics. An obvious measure of influence is the frequency with which majorities are assembled and key votes won. Another, admittedly more subjective, gauge is visibility in the media – and here I mean particularly the media outside the “Brussels bubble”.
Three of the highest profile matters that the European Parliament is now handling – data privacy, the conduct of the financial sector and “Luxleaks” – have Green MEPs taking the lead (Jan Albrecht, Sven Giegold and Philippe Lamberts).
Anglo-Saxon media at least regularly refer to and quote these parliamentarians in their news stories. This does not necessarily translate, of course, into the Green group being able to assemble majorities in their favour on these matters but it is a pretty clear example of a group representing less than 6% of the total EP membership punching way above its weight.
I may be being too simplistic in this assessment. The two largest groups still hold key positions.
The EPP-S&D arrangement of sharing the EP’s presidency every two and a half years shows no sign of overhaul and many respected figures from these groups hold the chairmanships of important committees, such as Claude Moraes on Civil Liberties and Bernd Lange on Trade from the S&D and Elmar Brok on Foreign Affairs and Jerzy Buzek on Industry, Research and Energy from the EPP.
Whatever the size of the group members belong to, however, all MEPs face a new challenge in their role as “co-legislators”.
The new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker and masterminded by his first Vice-President Frans Timmermans, seems determined to reduce significantly the number of proposals where the Parliament’s opinion and approval are to be sought.
In its first annual work programme for 2015, the Commission has announced just 23 new proposals and the removal of 80 more languishing on the negotiating table.
This compares with 316 proposals in the first annual programme of the last Commission headed by Jose-Manuel Barroso and on average 100 new proposals in the subsequent four years of “Barroso II”.
This does not automatically mean that MEPs will have less to get their teeth into from now on but it does suggest a keener rivalry between groups and between members to secure positions of prominence such as rapporteurships and chairing committees of enquiry in those areas where the Commission will be focusing its attention.
After the stunning combined victory of the extreme groups in last June’s poll the understandable reaction of the main political groupings was to close ranks in an attempt to preserve some sense of “business as usual”. That strategy has worked well until now.
It remains to be seen whether this self-imposed cohesion will survive as the business of politics, as much as legislation, takes its natural course.
This could be a critical year for the governance of the Internet. A plan for transferring the US stewardship of the IANA functions to the global community is expected to come to life by next September. Post-WCIT tensions over the role of countries in managing the web may come to a showdown at the WSIS+10 high-level conference to be held next December in New York.
And while the UN General Assembly is likely to extend the mandate of the IGF, an essential platform for policy dialogue, many other Internet Governance issues such as privacy, cybersecurity and net neutrality will be debated more than ever in countless international venues. If it wants to carry some weight with the Internet “big game”, Europe cannot afford to play with 28 different national teams. It should speak with one voice out of a clear and bold vision.
Unfortunately, there are few signs that this will occur. In the past years Member states have relegated the issue of Internet Governance to a bunch of working documents and non-binding declarations. They haven’t gone beyond agreeing on a set of vague principles and have widely disregarded the European Commission’s pleas for more common action.
Such disengagement conceals the will to keep a free hand on the issue, highlighting different national stances. For instance, France and Germany are seemingly inclined to favour a more intergovernamental approach in the future governance of the Internet, whereas other EU countries are far more cautious fearing this could give more (legal) legitimacy to non liberal states’ attempts at censuring the web.
Nonetheless, a reasonable compromise would not be that difficult. Last year, the European Commission presented an ambitious political document on Internet Governance that could serve as a basis for further negotiations. Likewise, the European Parliament outlined his position in a number of non-binding resolutions.
Europe has still a great chance to be a protagonist of the current transition if it is willing to set aside ineffective national interests and develop a long-term and common strategy. But it should hurry.
Despite all the great promises, roaming fees are here to stay for some more time. They are not disappearing until 2018 or even later according to an amended proposal likely to get the backing of European governments as early as the end of February.
The compromise text put forward by the Latvian Presidency of the EU offers some sweeteners by providing for domestic rates to apply (as of June 2016) only to a very limited amount of traffic generated from abroad. That means travellers will resume paying surcharges after a few calls and some fiddling with their favourite app.
Extra fees will even keep applying to incoming calls.
One doesn’t have to be familiar with the technicalities of telecoms regulation to realize that we are nowhere near the “complete end of roaming charges” boasted by the proponent of the legislation and former EU commissioner for Digital agenda Neelie Kroes.
True, the European Parliament last April voted to ban roaming charges from 15 December 2015. Under the EU decision-making system MEPs will have to agree on a common text with Member states, thus raising the chances of a more consumer-friendly compromise.
However, given the differences between the two institutions, it is not clear to what extent a deal could restore Mrs Kroes’ pledges, or even if it could be struck at all.
Political wrangling apart, ending roaming charges gives also rise to a number of complex technical and legal issues. No wonder if national regulators, namely the very bodies in charge of putting the new rules into practice, have cautioned that the job “is not feasible”.
To be sure, they can’t be accused of siding with mobile operators (which have been lobbying hard against the proposal). Instead, they have simply highlighted an inconvenient truth most politicians in Brussels pretend to ignore: that the legislation is so ill conceived that it would do more harm than good.
In fact, it may lead to an increase in domestic prices, squeeze smaller (and often more competitive) operators and in the long term impair network investments. Competition will suffer as a result.
So the paradox here is that a legislation designed to benefit consumers will wound up harming them. This is not a surprise.
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To her credit, Mrs Kroes tried her best to address this fragmentation only to see the bulk of her “Connected Continent” package being torn apart by Member states and (to a lesser extent) MEPs.
Alas, many more national barriers should be brought down before an end to roaming charges becomes fully sustainable for the industry and truly beneficial to European citizens.
It is indeed wrong to assume, as many do, that a roaming-free continent would accelerate the transition to a telecoms single market. It is precisely the other way round.