Small telcos and consumer groups team up against former monopolies

EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger

Günther Oettinger [European Commission]

Small telecoms, and consumers and civil liberties advocates launched the NetCompetition alliance on Monday (16 November), at the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA) conference in Brussels.

The group is calling for more competitive broadband markets around Europe.

The new alliance unites small companies like Italy’s Fastweb, and rights groups European Digital Rights and the European Consumer Organisation BEUC. For some of its members, that collaboration is new. European Digital Rights, an NGO that focuses on civil liberties and privacy issues, hasn’t joined a telecoms advocacy group before.

NetCompetition’s members said they came together to put pressure on EU legislators ahead of the European Commission’s review of telecoms regulations next year.

In September, the European Commission opened two public consultations on broadband and the current legal framework for telecoms companies. Both consultations end in December.

Representatives from NetCompetition said the alliance plans to hold events in Brussels with legislators over the next few months, when the Commission is evaluating responses to the two telecoms consultations. One upcoming event will focus on artificial scarcity and data caps that providers impose on broadband services.

Small, alternative telecoms say that Europe’s large incumbent providers, often formerly state-run monopolies, need to be kept in check by regulators with an eye towards potential abuse of market dominance. The smaller companies that compete in the broadband market argue that they invest more in broadband infrastructure in rural areas while big providers have no incentive to build new networks.

“Our customers, consumers and businesses alike, are asking for more choice and freedom to access the internet,” said Lisa di Feliciantonio, public affairs director for Fastweb.

>>Read: Germany to invest heavily in broadband expansion

Other members of the group include BREKO, the German competitive broadband providers association, Italian internet provider association AIIP, and Dutch consumer protection association Consumentenbond.

“Liberalisation is not just an economic issue – protecting liberalisation is protecting innovation, choice and freedom of communication,” said Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights.

ECTA is not a member of NetCompetition, but the group said it hopes the association will join later.

With the Commission’s telecoms consultations drawing to a close next month, NetCompetition isn’t the only new alliance sprouting up to call for more competition in Europe’s broadband market.

During the ECTA conference yesterday, a separate group of CEOs from ten small European telecoms providers banded together to form the ECTA CEO Council that will push for regulation to give small companies a leg up against their large incumbent competitors.

The group said in a statement, “The political objective of promoting network investments should be high on the agenda, but with the aim of enabling efficient investments by all players, big and small.”

EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger told participants at the ECTA conference yesterday that the Commission needs to do more to incentivise investment in next generation networks, particularly in rural areas.

“We will need to make certain amendments to the current regulatory approach that could support simplification, convergence and vibrant competition,” Oettinger said.

>>Read: Czech broadband money caught in political intrigue

The European Commission announced as part of its digital single market plans that it would propose telecoms legislation in 2016. In September 2015, the Commission launched two public consultations on broadband and regulation of the telecoms sector.

  • 7 December 2015: The European Commission's public consultations on broadband and telecoms regulation ends
  • By end of 2016: The European Commission wants to conclude its review of telecoms regulation

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