Facing the digital future means we must take advantage of top-quality, high-bandwidth digital services – from smart cities to cloud computing. Yet today, we don’t have the networks to do that; just 2% of Europeans households have ultra-fast broadband subscriptions.
Changing that is a priority for my term in office here. Yet as it stands, our telecoms sector is underperforming and unable to grow in scale – facing uncertainties, borders and barriers. I want to combat that trend so we have a sector able to invest and innovate – it’s in everyone’s interests.
Almost exactly one year ago, I set out measures to start changing that. And now, representatives of the EU’s member states have formally agreed by consensus to the draft Recommendation which legally translates those proposals – marking the end of a year of intense collaboration with stakeholders, national regulators, and national governments on detailed text.
I’m delighted the EU has now agreed on those important measures – essential to boosting competition on more than just price, and investment in next generation networks; giving the certainty needed for long term planning; and ensuring greater regulatory convergence across the EU and stable and predictable copper prices.
In particular our Recommendation includes: guidance to national regulators about the conditions under which price regulation of next generation networks is no longer warranted; measures securing truly equivalent access by alternative operators to incumbents’ networks; and a methodology to calculate the cost of accessing copper networks, so that national regulatory practices converge, and so that those copper prices remain stable.
But really it’s just one example of how the right measures can be good for everyone: providing the certainty needed for the sector to invest and grow; and benefiting citizens by ensuring more of them can start enjoying the benefits of faster, next generation broadband networks. I know it’s something operators and investors have been looking forward to; even the announcement of this proposal last July led to significant new investments being confirmed – and I hope that trend continues with this formal agreement.
Such measures to boost investment are even more important since funding for broadband was significantly cut from the EU’s budget proposal – a proposal that could have given 40 million extra households fast connections. Member States’ agreement clears the way for formal adoption of this Recommendation by the Commission – and then it will guide national authorities when they regulate wholesale broadband markets, making a real difference.
That sits alongside other measures we have put forward – like proposals to actually cut the cost of broadband digging projects. But those measures still don’t go far enough; the sector still faces too many borders and barriers; with 28 different systems of regulation, companies get stuck in national markets, unable to find the economies of scale to invest large-scale or compete globally. And I will in early September be coming out with a package of measures to change that – making a reality of a single telecoms market, where operators can work more easily across borders — and so can Europe’s consumers and businesses. Today’s agreement is a big step forward – but really, it’s just the first step towards a connected, competitive continent. Stand by for more.