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09/12/2016

Leak: Commission to propose boosting telecoms competition and new internet speed target

Innovation & Industry

Leak: Commission to propose boosting telecoms competition and new internet speed target

Günther Oettinger

[European Commission]

The European Commission wants internet download speeds to reach 100 megabits per second by 2025 and is calling for more public funds to build faster networks, according to a leaked document obtained by EurActiv.com.

The Commission is expected to publish the document on 21 September along with legislative proposals to overhaul current EU telecoms law.

Some telecoms companies already complained that the Commission’s target to boost internet speeds is too low and means there will not be a fast push to upgrade network infrastructure.

One Commission official rejected criticism that the executive’s target is too low, calling 100 megabits per second “realistic”.

“We assume that every village will have gigabit connectivity by 2025,” the official said.

“This is the minimum target that is achievable by a group of technologies. All of these technologies are looking at a deep replacement by fibre.”

The document also says copper telecoms networks are “retarding developments necessary for the digitalisation of European industry”.

The Commission is set to announce next week whether it will greenlight a German telecoms regulation that would allow giant operator Deutsche Telekom to upgrade its copper networks. Competing firms argue that will cut off their access to internet users and delay a broader transition to faster glass fibre networks.

EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger opened up a probe in May to test whether the German regulation complies with EU law.

The executive is also planning to introduce rules that will safeguard competition between larger telecoms operators and newer companies. The document says the proposal expected for September will include “a number of targeted changes” to speed up internet connections and boost competition.

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“They provide the necessary safeguards for competition (by maintaining regulated access to bottlenecks) and at the same time enhance the roll-out of very high-capacity networks, driven where possible by infrastructure competition,” the document reads.

National telecoms regulators will also be beefed up under the Commission’s proposal, which will boost the watchdogs’ authority to sanction large “dominant operators that unjustifiably deviate from their declared intentions” to invest in networks.

An estimated €155 billion in investment is still needed to build fast internet networks and meet the Commission’s 2025 goal.

The Commission wants more public funds to go into building networks. More money will be pumped into the executive’s Connecting Europe Facility to meet the 2025 speed target, along with “an appropriate mix of grants and other instruments”.

Officials working on the telecoms overhaul acknowledged that the call for more public money will strike a nerve with some EU countries.

“This is going to be a big discussion and people are still uneasy because of Brexit, but the message is we will need to have public money,” one Commission official said.

The executive will also propose changes to how EU countries sell and manage radio spectrum, which will likely face resistance from national governments that want to keep spectrum policy under their control.

National governments should coordinate how they license and award spectrum to make sure rural parts of the EU have internet coverage, according to the Commission document. The September proposal will also ask EU countries to increasingly license spectrum out to more than one company, especially as higher speed bands become available for fast 5G connections.

EurActiv published a leaked opinion paper from the German government in March that said any rules to increase sharing spectrum between more than one operator should include measures allowing companies to withdraw from such an arrangement and receive damages.

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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'.

 

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