Brussels' ambitious plan to usher in a single market for telecoms is likely to harmonise spectrum policy, a move member states are likely to resist.
A single market proposal will be put before EU leaders in October, but the European Commission is now racing to get drafts out before the end of June so that it can complete an inter-service consultation before the ideas are discussed by government leaders.
Roberto Viola, deputy director-general in DG Connect, was scathing on current spectrum policy and indicated how far the Commission intended to attempt harmonisation in its single market plans.
A 'valid passport'
“We want a valid passport for telecommunications companies to offer services and this links to having a more harmonised regulatory environment,” he told a conference on regulation in the telecoms sector on 25 April, organised by the European Telecommunications Network Operators association (ETNO).
Viola, a former secretary-general of Italy's regulator for the communication industries (Agcom), also said the EU executive would roll “concrete measures” affecting spectrum policy into the body of the single market proposals.
Originally it was foreseen that spectrum would be dealt with in a separate paper from the Commission.
“Member states are greedy on spectrum, displaying a short-term vision for the benefits of their finance ministries,” Viola explained.
“If Americans told us that there is a different spectrum frequency plan for the city of Tucson from other cities, we would find it bizarre, yet that is what is happening in the EU,” said Viola.
New rules will seek to harmonise the EU spectrum, Viola said, explaining that the proposals would seek to address the speed at which member states roll out spectrum and the duration of contracts.
In a speech to Barcelona’s Global Mobile Congress on 26 February, Neelie Kroes, commissioner for the digital agenda, said the 27 EU states needed to align their approach on mobile spectrum and fibre broadband, creating a genuine single market.
Kroes described Europe’s poor efforts to release broadband spectrum as resembling “a bowl of spaghetti”.
The proposals on spectrum harmonisation will be controversial, since France, Germany and Britain are amongst those which oppose ceding control of spectrum auctions that bring billions into public coffers. Spectrum is often classed by member states as a matter of national security, and therefore off-limits to the EU executive.
Consolidation, but not at any price
Meanwhile Cecilio Madero, the Commission’s deputy director general for antitrust who is responsible for competition policy, told delegates at the conference: “A genuine single market would require less competition-oriented regulatory intervention.”
This is in line with the EU executive’s broad plan to free up the path to more consolidation in the telecoms sector, to encourage bigger, heavier-hitting European players.
Europe has about 100 mobile operators, set against six in the United States and three in China, making for a much more fragmented market. European companies have also been struggling to pay off debts and build 4G and fibre broadband.
Madero made clear that such consolidation would not be allowed at any cost, and that the EU executive would not permit consolidation to result in price rises unless they can be justified.