Europe looks for harmonized regulations to boost roll-out
Commissioner to outline proposals for common rules, greater cooperation and shared networks, but will stop short of super-regulator
Published: 15 January, 2013
European carriers' suggestions of a pan-regional network may have received short shrift in new year discussions, but the EU still hopes to harmonize regulatory structures across the 26 states to encourage investment in broadband and mobile infrastructure, and to accelerate roll-outs.
The European Commission says it will seek to harmonize national telecoms regulations, reviving the much-discussed concept of a 'super-regulator'. There has been significant progress over the past decade to apply common rules across the region, including roll-out deadlines spectrum rules, but the EC believes there is still a high level of fragmentation, which acts as a barrier to investment. Harmonization could help offset the effects of the eurozone crisis on the telecoms sector, and dilute the trend towards consolidation.
Telecoms Commissioner Neelie Kroes told London's Financial Times at the weekend that she will soon propose a set of reforms to reduce fragmentation in telecoms, and to make it easier for operators to merge with players across national borders rather than consolidating further within a single country.
"We're working on a range of measures to create common and stable conditions across the EU for telecoms competition, investment and growth, which should also make cross-border consolidation more attractive," Kroes said in the interview. "Various forms of asset sharing can promote competition and investment - regulated access to dominant infrastructure on terms that support further investment by all players; access to other utilities' infrastructure on reasonable terms; sharing of wireless assets such as masts or spectrum under clear conditions."
A major feature of the proposals will be telecoms network sharing, whether wireline and wireless, and the trend to invest in multi-operator, cross-border infrastructure which could support wholesale models, lowering barriers to entry for innovative service providers and stimulating new services in areas like the internet of things. The EC is keen to address common rules for access to physical infrastructure, in order to lower infrastructure costs and accelerate 4G roll-outs.
In recent weeks, telco CEOs have banded together to call on the EU Competition Commissioner, Joaquin Alumnia, to let them engage in pan-regional network sharing deals, which could eventually morph into 'super-networks'. They will present their ideas about a single European telecoms market to Kroes this quarter.
However, the proposals at this stage will stop short of that, and of installing a single super-regulator. Instead, Kroes will seek greater co-operation between the Commission and national regulators, and smoother processes, although there would inevitably be a shift in the balance of power towards the center.