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04/12/2016

MEPs ask Oettinger to reverse German broadband decision in angry letter

Digital

MEPs ask Oettinger to reverse German broadband decision in angry letter

Günther Oettinger

[European Commission]

Thirteen German MEPs sent a blistering letter to EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger slamming the German telecoms authority’s decision to allow the controversial vectoring technology on copper broadband networks.

The Bundesnetzagentur, Germany’s telecoms authority, notified the European Commission yesterday (7 April) about its decision to allow the so-called vectoring technology exclusively on copper wires to speed up broadband internet connections. But competitors have panned the decision, which they argue will give giant Deutsche Telekom an unfair advantage and keep smaller companies from accessing networks.

The European Commission has one month to form its own opinion of the German regulator’s decision. If the executive expresses “serious doubts” about the decision, another two-month inquiry would follow.

In a letter sent to Oettinger earlier today (8 April), the MEPs argued that allowing vectoring would lead to “remonopolisation of fixed-line access networks”.

The letter was signed by EPP members Sabine Verheyen, Hermann Winkler, Birgit Collin-Langen, Werner Langen and Markus Pieper as well as S&D members Petra Kammerevert, Udo Bullmann, Evelyne Gebhardt, Martina Werner, Constanze Krehl, Jens Geier and Matthias Groote.

The MEPs criticised the decision as a limitation on free competition that would give Deutsche Telekom to update their copper networks.

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Vectoring would, especially in “poorly serviced areas”, meaning rural parts of Germany, have “huge disadvantages” where distances between broadband cabinets and the premises they connect to are especially long.

The MEPs cited an opinion from Germany’s competition authority and warned against “forgoing competition to the benefit of the company with the largest market power”.

“That’s why we’re asking you to consider vectoring appropriately in the notification process, which will barely bring technical progress and is more than questionable from a competition perspective,” the letter reads.

A committee of the Bundesnetzagentur’s advisory board is meeting on Monday (11 April).

In a letter sent to the agency’s president yesterday, the vice president, Wilhelm Eschweiler, summed up the initial decision, stating that Deutsche Telekom can in the future “deny competitors access” to its copper networks.

EurActiv.com leaked the German government’s position paper last month on the upcoming EU legal reform of the telecoms industry, expected later this year.

The paper called for less regulation of the telecoms industry and less EU involvement in national regulation. Critics said the draft document would benefit Deutsche Telekom. The position paper is still pending approval from the federal government.

EurActiv reported yesterday that the Juncker Plan for investment will soon set up a dedicated funding track to channel loan money into building more broadband networks in rural areas.

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Background

The European Commission announced as part of its digital single market plans that it would propose telecoms legislation in 2016, likely after the summer. The Commission's public consultation on regulation of the telecoms sector ended in December 2015.

The upcoming reform is expected to affect investment in telecoms networks, access to networks and competition with internet services like Skype and Whatsapp. Big incumbent telecoms companies argue those services aren't regulated as rigorously--and they demand a 'level playing field'.

In November 2015, the German national telecoms regulator approved a request by Deutsche Telekom to use the controversial vectoring technology to deliver highspeed broadband, which competing companies say will crowd out their access to networks. The European Commission was notified about the decision on 7 April 2016, and will then issue its own decision about whether the deal breaks EU law.

Timeline

  • 7 April 2016: Bundesnetzagentur notified European Commission about its decision to allow vectoring. The Commission has one month to respond with its own decision.

Further Reading