Telecom package is indivisible, says Kroes

EU vice-president Neelie Kroes has defended her proposals for a single telecom market and has said that she is proposing a complete package that will not be adopted on a piecemeal basis. 

Speaking at the Financial Times-European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (FT-ETNO) Summit in Belgium, Kroes said that European telecom operators are currently unable to reach the scale that would allow them to compete globally.

“I’m sure you have all seen the proposals in our package for a connected continent,” Kroes told attendees.  “Many of you have already commented. And it’s perhaps inevitable that each stakeholder is deciding which elements they find sweet, and which they find sour. Well, this is a package. You can’t take it apart.”

Reiterating the importance of eliminating roaming and cross-border charges and consistent network neutrality rules, Kroes said that the different elements in the package support each other, with the removal of roaming a key element.

“That’s why I say: you can’t pick which bits you want from the menu. This isn’t a restaurant,” said Kroes. “I’ll be honest. I think the telecoms sector will ultimately benefit from this package. But that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it for European growth and European jobs: the 1% of GDP we could gain with a true telecoms single market. I’m doing it for every business in every sector that depends on connectivity for its competitiveness. I’m doing it for every citizen glued to their smartphone and in love with online innovation.”

She said the package offered a more consistent regulatory framework, which would particularly help smaller operators, harmonised access products for fixed network, which would enable cross border networks and deliver scale, better and more consistent spectrum rules, allowing operators to plan and bid across borders, and pervasive WiFi, allowing the creation of a new wireless market.

Kroes said the package also allowed for the creation of new innovative services “as long, of course, as they do not impact the regular internet” and would promote the rollout of new broadband networks by limiting price regulation on high-speed networks to where it was strictly necessary.

Addressing elements less favoured by telcos, Kroes said that cross border charges and roaming charges were unsustainable. “Which of you thinks it’s sustainable for our economy to maintain scarcity, and frustrate the economy’s need for connectivity? To be seen not as with your customers, but against them? Which of you thinks your customers would long tolerate an internet service where you decide what they can or can’t access?” she said.

On the question of roaming, Kroes said that analysts had already discounted roaming revenues and that she preferred to see the elimination of these via market incentives rather than compulsion. “But ultimately roaming is on its way out one way or the other. It’s time to surrender the unsustainable – and face the great opportunities of the future,” she said.

In return, said Kroes, her proposals offered “a predictable investment environment and incentives to shift to sustainable business models – just as they are already doing in the Scandinavia and the Baltics”.

Kroes also said that the EU  is preparing a public-private partnership on 5G mobile technology, and that she was hopeful the EC would commit “hundreds of millions of euros” to the project.