The more nation states try to build radio spectrum customized policies on a country-by-country basis, the slower the auctions happen, the later consumers get LTE, says Christopher Yoo.
The DSM strategy is a huge opportunity for Europe, he stresses, but it requires a genuine commitment by member states towards opening their borders: in the Internet economy refusing change is not an option and if you protect your domestic economy you’ll simply be left behind.
Europeans have to make sure that they do not cave in to people who oppose increased competition stemming from creating a pan-European digital market across borders, adds Professor Yoo. This change can be very disruptive but it will ultimately yield tremendous benefits.
photo credits: drew baker
The Commission is expecting European leaders to give strong political support to the DSM strategy, says spokesperson for Digital Single Market Nathalie Vandystadt, signalling that all the actions listed in the initiative have been called upon by a vast majority of Members States and MEPs.
What about the criticism that the strategy is lacking in both grand vision and on practical implementation? This is only the start of a long journey, she replies, and the commission is already working on concrete proposals. We cannot say the strategy is not ambitious enough – It is realistic.
There is a sneaky sensation when one looks at the “Connected Continent” package, which supposedly should lead Europe’s efforts toward a vibrant, competitive digital single market. Every time the text is revised, it becomes worse.
The recently leaked document, that was the basis for a first exploratory trilogue held on March 23 in Brussels, is no exception: it marks a big step backwards. Here’s why.
First, the confusion on net neutrality seems to be increasing. The latest text reintroduces the possibility for providers to enter into agreements aimed at creating services with minimum quality levels.
While this might represent an improvement compared to the text voted by the Parliament in April 2014, which took a much stricter position on net neutrality by prohibiting specialized services, the new text fails to clarify the conditions under which such agreements would be viable.
The mere indication that the provision of services with guaranteed quality (e.g. for e-Health, or for the connected car, which require sufficient latency to be effectively delivered) should not materially impair the quality of internet access for other end users does not bring any legal certainty.
Will the assessment of the “material impairment” be performed by national regulators? Ex ante or ex post? Based on what parameters?
This rule, if maintained in its current state, might prove to be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement in practice. Not surprising, since a similar rule is already in place as Article 22 of the Universal Service Directive since 2009, and has remained practically dead letter.
Second, the most recent text postpones the achievement of zero roaming prices to 2018 by implementing a transitory regime called “roam like at home plus” (RLAH+) proposed by the Latvian Presidency.
However, a complex rule is being devised, which would allow the “plus” to be applicable only after a basic roaming allowance is exceeded. The Presidency proposed that the basic roaming allowance could be available for a minimum of 7 days, and that it could include a minimum daily consumption of 5 minutes of voice calls made and received, 5 SMS sent and 5 megabytes of data roaming services used.
Third, and most importantly, there is no trace of the original proposal to coordinate spectrum allocation in certain key bands.
While the original proposal was already a watered-down version of what many claim should be the real objective of the EU institutions – a pan-European spectrum policy – in the new text spectrum becomes a ghost. A deplorable absence, which might bear severe consequences for the future of the Union’s economy.
Quite surprisingly, the institution that has been most vocal on the need to include spectrum in the package is the European Parliament. But the Latvian presidency seems to have no mandate to negotiate spectrum, a hot potato that was cut out of the negotiation table for lack of consensus among member states.
These are quite bad news for European citizens and businesses. In addition to a rather disappointing text, the evolution of the debate lends itself to possibly more discouraging interpretations.
Is the Commission now willing to bargain by offering to anticipate zero roaming in exchange for more leeway on specialized services? Or is the new, “political” European Commission in such a subordinate position to the Council, that anything that is not immediately and almost unanimously agreed by the Member States is taken out of the dossier?
Is this the real meaning of Juncker’s top ten priorities, and the idea to be “big on big things, small on small things”?
To be sure, the coming weeks will be an important testbed for these conjectures.
The next negotiation session on the Connected Continent proposal is scheduled for 21 April: there is still time to table more ambitious and meaningful proposals.
photo credits: Paul B
Is there a single reason why we need national telecoms law in the digital age in the European Union? I am struggling to think of one. I’m not saying a universal telecoms utopia is about to descend on us. I am simply putting it out there, that there’s no use for national law in this area anymore.
I can already here the “buts” screaming at me through the interweb. Remember that the starting assumption of most individuals and like-minded groups is that they are unique, or have unique needs. This applies across all forms of thinking and human activity. Thinking you or your country is unique is about the least unique thing you can do.
From a consumer perspective, we need to ask why the most borderless service and content category – the online world – is the one with the most national regulation.
Why does a consumer in Austria need more rights to change phone contracts than a citizen in Slovenia? Why does a Belgian need 141 times more protection from 4G radiation than a citizen in France? .
In a connected and data-powered world we can see relatively quickly and easily what works and what doesn’t. Policy is no exception, and it’s quite clear that 28 different approaches to telecoms don’t work.
Achieving uniformity would come at too high a political cost; but the cost of pretending there is a policy benefit to every European country doing their own thing is higher.
Jealously guarding the pet ideas and projects of whichever mid-level policy makers have cornered the geeky digital fields for themselves in a given country is not the way to make good policy.
Think about the example of the so-called “Universal Service Obligation” which imposes on incumbent telecoms companies certain levels of service guarantee. In the countries that want it. To the extent they feel like it. Or felt like it when they last discussed it. A decade ago. Seriously?
Here’s my question to people who think it should exist: what’s universal about it, if every country gets to decide whether to have it and what the parameters are?
Aside from the fact that it’s hard for a government to keep up to date with what people want and need in terms of internet access, it’s all just so pointless when a Universal Service Obligation is neither universal nor obligatory.
From a rural broadband roll-out perspective, let’s look beyond the failed effort to use European Investment Bank to fill rural gaps, as the Connecting Europe Facility proposed.
[Tweet “We can abandon failed national practices and laws without impinging on national sovereignty…”]
…simply by spreading the best policy models.
What is there to gain from following the Italian model, where virtually no-one has fast broadband outside of cities? Nothing.
What is there to gain from the Swedish model, where virtually everyone does?A great deal.
Letting countries choose to fail out of deference to traditions of national policy failure is ridiculous. This has nothing to do with threatening a country’s identity or way of life (unless you count poverty and isolation as a way of life) and everything to do with common sense.
From a business perspective let’s look at mobile roaming charges. In popular debate we hear about holiday-makers getting shock bills or being forced to turn off their devices.
In reality the people and economic activity affected most by roaming charges are businesses and business travellers. Job creation, exports, and start-ups are not helped by roaming charges.
These are arbitrary charges introduced in the 1990s (and not from the get-go: the original system was just a 33% mark-up on your domestic bill when you travelled), based on non-existent extra costs.
It costs supermarket chains more deliver goods to stores without truck parking spaces than it does for telecoms operators to connect you while abroad. And you don’t see that supermarkets charging a 2000% mark-up in response to their traffic problem. Why should telcos?
Stupid systems like this hurt the people who do most to grow our economy, and they hurt blameless victims like people who live in border zones. And that’s before considering the anger and confusion imposed on ordinary retail customers.
There is no justification for them on market or political terms. They are simply logically inconsistent to the over-riding principle of the single market. No national law can possibly trump that set of arguments. And yet we hear endlessly about how hard abolishing roaming fees will be for telcos in holiday destinations like Portugal and France.
Yes, how terrible for those telcos having to cope with people paying them to send their holiday photos home in August. Next time you see a telco CEO: remember he is like a starving child – only he suffers more – because the fat from his roaming cash cow is at risk.
Then there’s the mother of all stakeholder issues: net neutrality. We cannot seem to agree on a working definition of the concept to conduct a public debate. Given that, is 28 parallel national debates about the same universal network that we all depend on really the way to achieve public good? The only ways forward are European and global debates.
Then there’s the mother of all geek issues: spectrum. If you look at chart of how spectrum is allocated in Europe it looks like a university student threw up on a sheet of paper after a night out drinking cheap spirits and pizza. It’s so mangled and messed up that it’s clear no national set of decision-makers could possibly untwist it all.
It’s rare to even get enough brains in a room to make sense of it, let alone fix it. The relevance to the issue of national vs EU law is that there’s a difference between saying every country has the right to reserve certain amounts of spectrum for military use (fair enough) and other distortions.
There is no reason to leave TV stations with existing spectrum just because they existed before mobile companies did.
There is no sense in greedy national treasuries conducting blood-sucking auctions – because all they do is delay new service roll-out and the extra tax receipts that come with it.
There is no reason for spectrum to be allocated to pagers (remember them on the doctor’s waist in the 1980s) and taxi radio systems (what’s an app, guys?).
Again, let countries reserve spectrum for the military, and then let a common European system apply to the rest. If we don’t, you can look forward to your mobile phone dropping out even more often sometime in the mid-future.
Even when it is not legally or political possibly to apply European or global solutions, it is still fundamentally necessary to have European debates. Because if there is one thing we have learnt from the history of telecoms – from undersea cables to internet to the GSM standard to the rise of Vodafone to roaming price caps – it is that cross-border action has the best impacts.
photo credits: János Balázs
EU governments look pretty keen to scrap plans for more coordination in spectrum licensing across the continent. However, the move may jeopardize future efforts to improve Europe’s mobile networks, with negative impacts on consumers and businesses alike.
It is unclear whether EU member states are going to broker a deal on the Telecoms Single Market package anytime soon. Differences abound on the details of Net Neutrality provisions and plans to end roaming fees featured in the proposed bill.
However, what’s more certain at this stage is that most governments are keen to get away with the package proposals pushing for more coordination in spectrum licensing for wireless broadband.
If confirmed, the move would strike a fatal blow to the very spirit of the legislation.
For in a world increasingly dominated by mobile communications there will be no digital single market without a higher degree of harmonization in spectrum policies.
The expected gains will be paramount to speed up the roll out of 4G networks, bringing huge benefits to consumers and businesses alike. The same goes for the introduction of more flexibility and market-led mechanisms in spectrum usage provided for by the legislative package.
Speaking at a recent GSMA event, the EU new digital single market chief Andrus Ansip urged governments to make up their minds rightfully pointing out that more cooperation on spectrum assignment “is not a technical issue” but would translate into cheaper and higher quality connectivity, as well as new services.
MEPs should also step up their pressure by threatening to block any incoming inter-institutional negotiations on the TSM proposal if member states water down or drop its provisions on spectrum usage. It would be a logical step since the European Parliament in April passed an amended draft of the bill that reinforces its original plans on spectrum harmonization.
The truth here is that auctions for frequencies have long provided an easy source of revenue for governments. This explains their reluctance, also welcome by national regulators, to relinquish powers to a more centralized mechanism of the sort contemplated by TSM package. A single market for wireless communications would be however a far more lucrative bargain for everyone in the long run.
Although the European Commission has pledged to work out new legislation on ‘radiospectrum management’, it would be foolish to give up on the rules put forward by former EU digital chief Neelie Kroes under the scope of the TSM package. In fact any future bill should build up upon them, impulsing greater harmonization and – why not? – even daring to break the great taboo of pan-European auctions.
At this stage a fresh legislative initiative would take a while to be drafted and presented, not to mention adopted. Do not expect anything like that before 2016. Meanwhile, the gap between Europe and other regions (such as the US) in LTE deployments, network speeds, total mobile usage or the rollout of advanced services may get bigger to the detriment of the continent’s economy.
To be sure, a lot is at stake here. Up to the new Commission and the European Parliament to convey this message to their national counterparts.