Even though ‘traditional’ public service TV and radio remain very popular, we want to consolidate the important role public service media has to play in the digital environment, says Nicola Frank, Head of European Affairs of the EBU. Here’s her opinion on the main legislative proposals of the Digital Single Market strategy.
The Digital Post: What are the priority issues for EBU on the EU digital policy agenda?
Nicola Frank: Digital Single Market policies are crucial because they will impact the way programmes are licensed, distributed and presented to viewers. We want to make sure that our content reaches citizens on all devices, which calls for licensing tools which are fit for the digital environment as well as rules ensuring that all relevant networks carry our programmes, and significant platforms and interfaces display our services prominently to users. This is very important for cultural diversity and media pluralism.
The way citizens access TV and radio programmes has evolved extremely fast in recent years. Even though ‘traditional’ public service TV and radio remain very popular – reaching 59% and 44% of Europeans respectively every week – we want to consolidate the important role public service media has to play in the digital environment. This is very much at the heart of EBU members’ strategies today.
As part of its digital strategy, the EU already made a very important step towards effective net neutrality. Now we need to build on this first important stepping stone with the recent proposals on the audiovisual media services directive, the telecoms review and the copyright proposals.
TDP: What are the challenges for broadcasters in the recent telecoms review?
NF: From our perspective, the Telecoms review will impact the way our programmes are distributed on the various electronic communication networks – Digital Terrestrial Television, satellite, cable and IPTV. There is an opportunity within this review to strengthen the tools Member States have at their disposal to ensure that public service media programmes can be accessed on all key networks and on various devices. For example, ‘must-carry rules’ should be updated to match the fact that there are more means to distribute programmes and more on offer today, in particular interactive and on-demand services.
TDP: The copyright proposal has been criticised by many in Brussels and you are one of the few being quite positive, why is this?
NF: Yes, the proposal for a Regulation on broadcasters’ online content has caused quite an interesting reaction. Having analysed the proposal, we believe the Commission’s plans represent a balanced licensing solution. Effective licensing mechanisms are essential because assembling and distributing programmes implies that public service media organizations navigate through complex negotiations to obtain all the necessary licenses.
The proposal confirms contractual freedom and is in line with territoriality, principles which are at the very heart of the content-funding model. It should however be possible, for example, for Europeans who reside outside their homeland to access programmes from back home when they go online. When broadcasters wish to make a programme available across borders, then there should be adequate licensing tools out there to turn this will into a reality.
TDP: As part of the copyright discussions, broadcasters regularly mention the Satellite and Cable Directive. Where does that fit in?
NF: The Satellite and Cable Directive of 1993 is an interesting model because it has unlocked access to broadcasters’ programmes across borders on satellite and cable networks. It introduced effective licensing mechanisms for satellite transmissions and retransmissions on cable networks, which have shown that territoriality can co-exist with the Internal Market. For example, the Italian public channel RAI 1 is available in 20 EU Member States via cable with the exception of certain premium content, and those of us living here in Brussels can watch Sherlock on the BBC on Belgian cable without any problem. Around 1500 free-to-air satellite channels without encryption are available across Europe.
TDP: How are public broadcasters impacted by the proposals to update the AVMS Directive published earlier this year? From your point of you, how could the proposal be improved?
NF: The AVMS Directive covers subjects which are of major importance for public service media: informed citizenship, the protection of minors from harmful content and the promotion of European and domestic programmes to name but a few. They represent fundamental objectives for European audiovisual media policies. But what has changed is how these objectives are met in the digital environment.
The audiovisual media services Directive should be updated to ensure that valuable content for society is prominently displayed and easily accessed where citizens go to get audiovisual programmes in today’s digital environment. We want our contribution to society to be effective in this rapidly-evolving audiovisual landscape: we offer impartial and diverse information, a gateway to European content – over 80% of our EBU members’ airtime – and safe, informative spaces for users, especially minors.
Facilitating access to our members’ programmes is all the more important because powerful and VOD and OTT providers’ impact on the individual viewers’ choice and consumption is growing steadily. The Audiovisual media services Directive needs to give Member States the possibility to address access and appropriate prominence of public service media programmes.
The role of video-sharing platforms and social media also needs to be examined. Obviously, you cannot regulate them like audiovisual media service providers who exercise editorial responsibility. But there needs to be a basic set of rules to protect minors and tackle hate speech because of the importance of these platforms in the digital environment, in particular for younger audiences.
Picture credits: Pierre Metivier
Joe Smithies, spokesperson for the UK telecoms regulator, defends the recent reform of Openreach, illustrates UK priorities for the review of the EU telecoms framework, suggests caution on bringing in more harmonisation in radio-spectrum policies.
The Digital Post: BT competitors lamented that in its long awaited Strategic Review of Digital Communications, Ofcom did not go far enough in regulating Openreach. How do you respond to this criticism?
Joe Smithies: We made a clear decision to reform Openreach’s governance and strengthen its independence from BT. We want Openreach to a more independent say on its budgets, investment and strategy. We also want Openreach to consult with all its customers, not just BT, about how it develops and invests in its network.
These decisions are important not only for BT, but for the wider industry. Now we are working on the best way to bring that about, and we will set out detailed plans later this year.
The Digital Post: How does the review ensure that Openreach improves its record in repairs and invests more in infrastructures, i.e. two of the main criticisms it has been collecting over the years?
JS: Currently BT Openreach is obliged to deliver a range of minimum standards. The majority of people encountering a fault must see it repaired within two working days, and the vast majority of those requiring a new line must receive an appointment within 12 working days.
We plan to set out detailed proposals about more demanding minimum standards for Openreach in the autumn.
On investment, we want Openreach to consult with all its customers, not just BT, about how it invests in the network. But more widely, we will encourage investment from other operators by requiring BT to open up its physical network, allowing rivals to lay their own fibre connections. That can create more rivals networks to Openreach, and in turn incentivise BT to invest.
The Digital Post: What should be the main priorities to be addressed under the upcoming review of the EU Telecom Framework?
JS: Concerns have been raised that the framework may not be sufficiently flexible to allow for the regulation of markets where there is a limited or shrinking number of players – in other words, an emerging ‘oligopoly’.
The framework allows regulators to take action to address damaging market features that could harm consumers, before that harm materialises. So it offers greater flexibility than, for example, remedies imposed during a merger.
But we feel the framework sets too high a bar for regulating cases where no one company has market power, but the market is still highly concentrated. To address any concerns, the framework requires regulators to show that the market structure is likely to result in a degree of coordination between operators. This may require demonstrating ‘tacit collusion’, which by definition is hard to prove.
BEREC, the European body of telecoms regulators, raised this issue in detail last year. We’re pleased that the European Commission is also considering the issue as part of the framework review. We hope to see changes that mean regulators have the full range of tools to respond to a changing market.
Any new powers would need to be applied proportionately, and with care. Checks and balances should be built into the system to ensure that happens. But with a change in the framework we could do more to encourage new operators into the market, and keep prices low.
The Digital Post: The framework review will also put forward proposals to promote better coordination in spectrum at EU level. What is your view?
JS: Spectrum is a finite resource, so coordination is important for using it effectively. Generally speaking, any form of harmonisation should be justifiable, proportionate and deliver tangible benefits. It should equally respect national sovereignty.
The UK works productively with the EU on spectrum matters, and we believe that the current system works well.
Picture credits: Kainet
European Commission’s plans to overhaul the telecoms rules across the bloc are most likely to encounter the hostility of a powerful, yet unsuspicious ‘lobby’: national regulators.
An opinion issued in mid-December by Berec, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, appears to anticipate a confrontation with Brussels.
The Commission has made a top priority to “break down national silos” in the sector’s regulation with the aim of building a genuine single market for telecoms.
Berec’s opinion is keen to stress that any such achievement “will always be the product of 28 competitive and well-regulated national markets”. While the executive president Jean-Claude Juncker recently proclaimed that he wants “to see pan-continental telecoms networks”, regulators respond that “physical networks are and will remain national.”
No need to be a telecom expert to guess that the two institutions may have diverging views. This is nothing new. Disagreements of this sort adumbrate a struggle of power that has been playing out for some time.
Telecom regulators stood firmly against several attempts by former digital commissioner Neelie Kroes to exert more control over their domestic decisions.
Now they fear that the upcoming reform might curtail their sway in national markets while increasing the Commission’s competences in what is meant to be a fresh shift of power.
Little wonder that Berec’s opinion appears to air scepticism at the idea championed by Brussels that the current rules governing the sector need a robust modernization as well as more harmonization.
By contrast, the organization is vocal in praising the existing legislation – although admitting improvements are required – precisely because it leaves regulators enough room for manoeuvre, namely the “ability to address the particularities of their national markets”.
Greater EU harmonisation should happen only where it makes sense, while preserving national differences, Berec argues. Thankfully, the Commission believes that a fair chunk of those differences are leading to overregulation or regulatory uncertainty that might hinder investment at a time Europe needs to accelerate the rollout of digital networks so as to compete with the rest of the world.
The mobile sector is a textbook case. Ensuring greater consistency in radio spectrum policies at EU level – a measure the Commission has announced to be part of the reform – will generate mobile network cost savings, as well as additional benefits associated with improved coverage, capacity and network performance, observers say unanimously.
And yet Berec does not appear to share this idea. To the contrary: It says that “top-down harmonization” might result “in inefficient use of” radio spectrum, “hampering rather than supporting innovation”.
The Commission is expected to unveil its proposal for the review of the EU’s regulatory framework for electronic communications as early as this spring.
These rules addressing the regulation of service provision, access, interconnection, users’ contractual rights and users’ privacy were last revised in 2007-2009. The reform constitutes one of the 16 strategic actions of the Digital Single Market strategy unveiled with great fanfare in May last year.
Berec’s opinions are not binding but must be taken in “utmost account” by the European Commission, according to the EU law, meaning they cannot be simply neglected, not least because telecoms regulators are often tasked with implementing the bloc’s rules.
It is worth noting that in the past years some regulators chose to ignore Brussels’ decisions or even the implementation of pieces of European legislation.
At the same time Berec voiced strong criticism at a bunch of key Commission’s proposals. For instance, it objected to a wide spectrum of measures put forward under the “Connected Continent” package, which was also designed to accelerate the building of a single telecom market.
That is why the European Commission should strengthen the dialogue with regulators before putting out the new legislation so as to minimize their influent opposition (in the past they lamented that they have been not consulted).
The fact is that further integration in the sector’s regulation is key for the future prosperity of the bloc and is a stepping stone towards a digital single market. Berec ought to come to terms with this basic truth even this means a loss of powers for the national regulators.
Photo credit: Jesse Loughborough
The legislation agreed in mid-December by Parliament and Council negotiators marks a crucial step forward in getting away with a calamitous patchwork of national laws on data protection. However, it contains a number of inconsistencies that could negatively affect Europe’s digital ambitions.
It took nearly 4 years of bitter negotiations for the EU to strike an agreement on a sweeping overhaul of its data protection rules. But it was worth it. The legislation agreed in mid-December by Parliament and Council negotiators marks a crucial step forward in getting away with Europe’s calamitous patchwork of national laws on data protection.
The previous EU rules dated back to 1995 and their varying interpretations by Member States have contributed to create significant regulatory uncertainty while hindering innovation in critical sectors of the economy.
However, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is far from perfect. It still presents multiple critical aspects. For instance, it fails to create a level playing field for telecom operators.
Following its introduction, the electronic communications sector will be forced to abide by a twofold regulation, complying with both the new data protection legislation and the ePrivacy Directive.
If Europe is serious about supporting growth and innovation in its digital markets, this asymmetry should be addressed as soon as possible. Otherwise it will place yet another burden on a sector which has been hit hard in recent years by a slow economic recovery while being under pressure to invest more in digital networks in order to meet the EU broadband targets.
As many know, the on-going Internet evolution has been providing breeding grounds for several new telecom-like services (including OTT services) to grow.
The point is that, unlike traditional telecom providers, such services are not necessarily bound by the terms of the ePrivacy Directive, although they are functionally equivalent to one another.
As a consequence, different rules applying to equivalent services inevitably create unfair competition between telecom operators as well as legal uncertainty and general confusion among consumers.
In order for consumers to benefit from a consistent regulation, regardless of the service provider in question, a prompt revision of the ePrivacy Directive is thus required.
But the negative implications of the new regulation on data protection could be larger, stretching far beyond the telecoms sector.
DigitalEurope, the main association representing the digital technology industry in Europe, believes that the legislation fails to strike the proper balance between protecting citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and the ability for businesses in Europe to become more competitive.
The text agreed upon between the European Commission, European Parliament and the Council of Ministers contains a number of stringent obligations that could be very costly for IT businesses, undermining their ability to invest, innovate and create jobs.
European businesses, traditionally less equipped to meet these obligations, could be hit hard. And, of course, this is in stark contrast with Europe’s ambitions to create a generation of home-grown global leaders in the tech sector.
Another matter of concern is the so-called is the compromise reached on the so-called “one-stop-shop”, according to which tech companies operating in different countries will deal with only one data-protection authority, namely where their European headquarter is based.
As Member states managed to weaken this principle, as recently reported by Reuters, some obervers believe that this will create more legal confusion and litiges (for instance, to determine what is the concerned national authority). Again: the bill for the companies could be very expensive.
Following the political agreement reached in trilogue, the final text of the data protection regulation will be formally adopted by the European Parliament and Council in a few weeks. Maybe there is still room to fix its inconsistencies.
Photo credit: Martin Fisch
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.
The FCC’s decision to adopt utility-style regulation to the Internet is resulting in less investment and reduced deployment and it will inevitably lead to less robust competition in the broadband market, argues Brendan Carr, legal advisor to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.
The Digital Post: You suggested that the FCC decision to reclassify broadband as a utility could undermine the US telecom success story. What are the main negative consequences?
Brendan Carr: The FCC’s decision to apply heavy-handed, utility-style regulation to the Internet is putting the U.S.’s success story at risk. It is already leading broadband providers to cut back on their investments and put off network upgrades that would have brought faster speeds and more reliable broadband to consumers.
And the decision to put the U.S.’s success at risk was an entirely unnecessary one. In the 1990s, American policymakers decided on a bipartisan basis that the Internet should develop unfettered by government regulation.
Regulators applied a light-touch regulatory framework that led to unparalleled levels of investment and, in turn, innovation.The private sector spent $1.3 trillion over the past 15 years to deploy broadband infrastructure in the U.S. That level of investment compares very favorably when you look at the International context.
A study of 2011 and 2012 data shows that wireless providers in the U.S. invested twice as much per person as their counterparts in Europe ($110 per person compared to $55). And the story is the same on the wireline side, with U.S. providers investing more than twice those in Europe ($562 per household versus $244).
Consumers benefited immensely from all of that investment. On the wireless side, 97% of Americans have access to three or more facilities-based providers. More than 98% of Americans now have access to 4G LTE. Network speeds are 30% faster in the U.S. than in Europe.
The story is similar on the wireline side: 82% of Americans and 48% of rural Americans have access to 25 Mbps broadband speeds, but those figures are only 54% and 12% in Europe, according to a 2014 study that looked at 2011 and 2012 data. And in the U.S., broadband providers deploy fiber to the premises about twice as often as they do in Europe (23% versus 12%).
Facilities-based intermodal competition is also thriving with telephone, cable, mobile, satellite, fixed wireless, and other Internet service providers competing vigorously against each other.
But unfortunately, the U.S. is now putting all of this success at risk. At the beginning of 2015, the FCC decided to apply public-utility-style regulation to the Internet over the objections of two FCC Commissioners.
I fear that we are already seeing the results of that decision. Capital expenditures by the largest wireline broadband providers plunged 12% in the first half of 2015, compared to the first half of 2014. The decline among all major broadband providers was 8%. This decrease represents billions of dollars in lost investment and tens of thousands of lost jobs.
And the decline in broadband investment is not limited to the U.S.’s largest providers. Many of the nation’s smallest broadband providers have already cut back on their investments and deployment. Take KWISP Internet, a provider serving 475 customers in rural Illinois.
KWISP told the Commission that, because of the agency’s decision to impose utility-style regulation, it was delaying network improvements that would have upgraded customers from 3 Mbps to 20 Mbps service and capacity upgrades that would have reduced congestion.
These and many more examples all point to the same conclusion. The FCC’s decision to adopt heavy-handed Internet regulation is resulting in less investment and reduced deployment. It will inevitably lead to less robust competition in the broadband market and a worse experience for U.S. broadband users.
But I am optimistic that the U.S. will ultimately return to the successful, light-touch approach to the Internet that spurred massive investments in our broadband infrastructure. Efforts are underway in both the courts and Congress to reverse the FCC’s decision. And following next year’s presidential election, the composition of the FCC could be substantially different than it is today.
The Digital Post: What is your opinion about the Net Neutrality legislation due to be adopted by the EU? What are the main differences with the Open Internet order?
Brendan Carr: I think the FCC’s decision to adopt utility-style regulation should serve as a cautionary tale for regulators that are examining this issue. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who I work for, has described the FCC’s decision as a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.
When the FCC acted, its rulemaking record was replete with evidence that utility-style regulation would slow investment and innovation in the broadband networks. And the evidence on the other side of the ledger? Non-existent.
Net Neutrality activists have trotted out a parade of horribles and hypothesized harms, but there was no evidence whatsoever of systemic market failure. The FCC adopted utility-style regulations even though it presented no evidence that the Internet is broken or in need of increased government regulation.
In the absence of any market failure, consumers are far better served by policies that promote competition. Utility-style regulation heads in the opposition direction—it imposes substantial new costs on broadband providers and makes it harder for competitors, particularly smaller broadband providers, to compete in the marketplace. After all, rules designed to regulate a monopoly will inevitably push the market toward a monopoly
The Digital Post: Next year the European Commission will propose a major revision of the EU current framework on telecoms. From your perspective what should be the priorities?
Brendan Carr: When I met with government officials and industry stakeholders in Brussels, one point kept coming up: the need to increase investment in Europe’s broadband markets. And I agree that embracing policies that will spur greater broadband investment is a key priority. According to a Boston Consulting Group report that just came out, Europe will need an additional €106 billion to meet its Digital Agenda goals.
Historically, the U.S. embraced a number of policies that led to massive investments in broadband networks. For one, U.S. regulators embraced facilities-based competition. We rejected the notion that the broadband market was a natural monopoly.
Therefore, we pursued policies that encouraged broadband providers to build their own networks, rather than using their competitors’ infrastructure. For example, we eliminated mandatory unbundling obligations, which were skewing investment decisions and deterring network construction.
We also made it easier for facilities-based providers from previously distinct sectors to enter the broadband market and compete against each other.
For instance, by making it easier for telephone companies to enter the video market and cable companies to enter the voice market, we strengthened the business case for those carriers to upgrade their networks, since offering a triple-play bundle of video, broadband, and voice was critical to being able to compete successfully. Because of these policies, capital flowed into networks, and consumers benefited from better, faster, and more reliable broadband infrastructure.
We also took steps on the wireless side to promote investment and competition. We embraced a flexible use policy for wireless spectrum. Instead of mandating that a particular spectrum band be used with a specific type of wireless technology, the government left that choice to the private sector, which has a much better sense of consumer demand.
This enabled wireless networks in the U.S. to evolve with technology and to do so much more quickly than if operators had to obtain government sign-off each step of the way. Having license terms and conditions that are relatively consistent across spectrum bands has also made it easier for providers to invest in the mobile broadband marketplace.
The Digital Post: The EU is still grappling with a fragmented and somewhat rigid approach to spectrum, despite the efforts of the European Commission. What can Europe learn from the FCC policy on spectrum?
Brendan Carr: The FCC’s spectrum policies have led to a tremendous amount of innovation and investment in our wireless networks. I would like to highlight a few of those here.
First, the FCC has embraced a flexible use policy for wireless spectrum. Instead of mandating that a particular spectrum band be used with a specific type of wireless technology, the government left that choice to the private sector, which has a much better sense of consumer demand.
This has enabled wireless networks in the U.S. to evolve with technology and to do so much more quickly than if operators had to obtain government sign-off each step of the way. For instance, nearly 50% of all mobile connections in the U.S. are now 4G, whereas that figure is only 10% worldwide.
Second, the FCC makes spectrum bands available on a nationwide basis with relatively uniform license terms and build out obligations. So rather than auctioning licenses that cover only part of the country one year and then auctioning other licenses in another year, all of the licenses for a particular spectrum band are offered in the same auction.
This approach gives broadband operators greater certainty and helps them plan their deployments while minimizing transaction costs. It also makes it easier for operators to obtain handsets and other equipment that will operate on their spectrum bands. All of that ultimately means that consumers get access to the spectrum faster and at lower costs.
Third, the FCC tries to keep its eye on filling the spectrum pipeline. It takes years for new spectrum bands to be brought to market, and so waiting for consumer demand to increase before starting the process of allocating more spectrum for consumer use is not an efficient approach.
The U.S. has engaged in a continuous process of reallocating spectrum for mobile broadband. We auctioned AWS-1 spectrum in 2006, 700 MHz spectrum in 2008, 65 MHz of mid-band spectrum earlier this year, and we’re set to auction our 600 MHz spectrum in 2016. To date, our spectrum auctions have over $91 billion for the U.S. Treasury.
Fourth, the FCC has embraced policies that make it easier for operators to deploy their spectrum. One way we’ve done that is by adopting what the FCC calls “shot clocks.” These require state and local governments to act on an operator’s request to construct a new tower or add an antenna to an existing structure within a set period of time, say within 90 or 180 days.
Another step the FCC has taken is to streamline the process of obtaining the historic preservation and other approvals that are required when an operator deploys broadband infrastructure. Combined, these actions have allowed spectrum to be deployed faster and have meant that consumers get quicker access to new mobile broadband offerings.
photo credit: Eris Stassi
We should not allow Europe to go backwards, the rules which gave highly performing results on copper, which allowed for outstanding innovation such as the creation of the triple-play offer should be equally enforced in the new fibre world.
Telecoms. Infrastructure. Fibre, FTTC, FTTH. 4G, 5G. Backhaul. They sound very boring, don’t they?
And yet, how we deal with these words today determines our future. Why? Internet connections via telecoms networks are some of the most important pieces of the puzzle of a high-speed connected world. E-services, connected cars, smart cities, Industry 4.0, unlimited speeds, innovation – our world going online – depend on high quality and high speed infrastructure.
Just like needing high quality chocolate to bake an irresistible chocolate cake – and for someone living in Belgium I know that choosing high quality chocolate can also be affordable – we need high speed networks to deliver high speed Internet connections at an affordable price to everyone in Europe.
If we want to tap into the digital revolution, we have to deal with its essential enablers, the networks, wired and wireless
Shaping the right foundations for a world of possibilities
Building the telecom infrastructure does not happen in the blink of an eye, to the contrary, we are talking about long term investments, at least for 20 years.
So let me give you several reasons why it is relevant to talk about this today: many people use more and more video streaming, public services are now increasingly based on digital tools. According to the OECD Digital Outlook 2015, though the share remains dispersed across countries, 64% of individuals in the OECD area relied on e-government services in 2013. Smart living is also essential to improve energy consumption or transport systems, people located in remote areas can now benefit from online training or education (1).
Some usage such as telemedicine can also dramatically change the future, provided the network connection is of the adequate quality. The same report from the OECD quotes estimates, which indicate that by 2017, mHealth applications could potentially save €99 billion in health care costs in the European Union.
And tomorrow what will be the new possibilities?
What we can take for granted is that the need for additional bandwidth will go increasingly and this is the challenge we are facing today. How to build the networks which will answer the needs of this new digitalised society?
The European Commission is now about to review the rules for these electronic communications services. This is the time when everybody should express their opinions about what they want for the future and how they could contribute to it.
I hear you say: “Here we are! Another telecoms lobbyist asking policy makers to allow them to make more profit.”
Well… That’s partly true but the interesting part is that it is possible to have a win-win solution for all. It is very well possible for end users to get affordable, high speed and innovative services and for the telecoms industry to have fair returns.
Equally it is possible to have affordable prices and good value money for end-users whilst having network investments in high capacity next generation networks. It is vibrant competition that delivers a win-win solution for end-users and the telecoms sector alike. And vibrant competition in telecoms crucially depends on effective regulation.
The role of the regulatory framework for electronic communication services is to encourage competition and guarantee basic user rights in order for European consumers and businesses to obtain quality services at affordable prices.
Rebuilding the virtuous circle of competition
Regulation should thus re-focus on competition as the triggering part of a virtuous circle: it pushes companies to be more innovative and efficient and offer services at competitive prices, which generates user demand. Demand in turn drives more investment.
However, the most best way to stimulate competition is through access regulation, meaning the ability of challenger operators to pay for access to the infrastructure of another operator that cannot be duplicated in order to offer services.
More players simply invest more… if enduring bottlenecks are tackled!
Alternative operators are investing significantly in networks and effective access regulation is the key enabler of their network investments. .
And the good news is – as a recent study by Analysys Mason shows – that pro-competitive regulation is a win-win for end-users and the telecoms industry. Vibrant broadband competition has led to lower, affordable prices for end-users and at the same time to higher revenues for the telecoms industry as a whole.
The revenues of the telecoms sector grew despite falling prices because affordability led to much higher broadband take-up by end-users. So there is no trade-off between competition and investments, nor between investments and affordable prices.
Obviously, for fixed infrastructures, it is sometimes not economically feasible to roll-out 3 or 4 parallel networks. The difference between choice and affordable prices for the end-users and no choice and high prices will depend on the degree of competition in the market, the possibility for all operators to invest and have access to the non-replicable parts of the networks. The last mile of the network is an enduring bottleneck and needs to be regulated.
The challenge for the review of the framework can be described as such: whilst there are lots of concerns voiced on the raise of new monopolies such as big US companies, the old monopolies are very much on the rise: according to the European Commission’s digital scoreboard 2015, incumbent operators have a 69% market share in VDSL which is currently the leading NGA technology in Europe.
Rules in a fibre world
We should not allow Europe to go backwards, the rules which gave highly performing results on copper, which allowed for outstanding innovation such as the creation of the triple-play offer should be equally enforced in the new fibre world.
That is also valid for rural areas where public money will be necessary to complement private investments: when there is no business case to build parallel infrastructures, every operator should have access to the monopolistic infrastructure as injecting competition is essential for affordability and innovation. There’s clearly no point in building a network if prices are so high that people can’t afford the services.
ECTA has just released a study by Analysys Mason on the rules to build our future digital highways with the aim to provide policy-makers with food for thought on what is, in our view, the best way to create a fully connected European society and economy.
Whether or not we decide to follow the path towards a vibrant competitive broadband market will make a huge difference from an end-user’s perspective and as a consequence on driving the necessary investments matching these ambitions.
(1) The OECD Digital Outlook 2015 indicates that open online courses are becoming more popular with 7.8% of Internet users in the EU who followed an online course compared with 4.7% in 2007.
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