The European Commission is playing the role of a “big cheerleader” for Next Generation Networks (NGNs), delaying their deployment while proposing cuts in mobile termination rates that are likely to severely affect the telecoms sector, Michael Bartholomew, director of the association which brings together the main European operators (ETNO), told EURACTIV in an interview.
With the EU institutions possibly entering the possible final phase of lengthy negotiations to review the rules governing the European telecoms sector, the main operators are pushing for specific measures aimed at favouring investment in optical fibre networks – so-called NGNs – which are set to allow super-fast Internet and a range of new Web-based services.
“We are not asking for funding, but simply for rules that give regulatory certainty in which NGNs can thrive,” Bartholomew told EURACTIV, urging negotiators to reach agreement on the issue, or otherwise “put off the discussions to a new Commission and a new Parliament”.
The European Parliament is set to vote upon the reviewed telecoms package in April, with the Council expected to adopt the new rules in a meeting of national telecoms ministers in June at the end of the current Czech EU Presidency. Negotiations among the three institutions involved (the Parliament, the Council and the Commission) are ongoing, although their positions remain far apart.
On NGNs, the Parliament included a range of amendments aimed at clarifying the regulatory framework to spur investment in fibre (EURACTIV 25/09/08). The vote pleased the main telecoms operators, represented by ETNO, but failed to attract similar support from new-entrant operators, such as Tiscali or Tele2. The Council did not endorse the EU assembly’s detailed approach (EURACTIV 28/11/08).
The Commission has so far adopted a prudent approach toward NGNs, instead prioritising the achievement of full Internet coverage across Europe. Many households, especially in rural areas, still do not have basic Web connections. Detailed provisions on how to favour investment in NGNs were thus missing in the original Brussels proposal, which intends to focus on the issue in a recommendation later this year (EURACTIV 19/09/08).
To trigger fibre investment, the Commission is looking at finding new resources. Among the latest ideas circulated, Brussels is linking the announced cut in mobile termination rates (a key source of revenue for big telecoms companies) to new investment in NGNs (EURACTIV 04/02/09). But Bartholomew dismissed that idea as “crazy”, describing it as “pure economic engineering” with potentially very dangerous consequences for the sector.