Europe's top telecommunication companies are discussing the creation of a pan-European infrastructure network to unite the region's disjointed national markets, according to a newspaper report on Wednesday (9 January).
The idea of sharing telecoms infrastructure was discussed at a private meeting between Joaquín Almunia, the European Union's competition chief, and bosses of Europe biggest groups, including Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Telecom Italia and Telefonica.
The Financial Times cited several people familiar with the talks as saying the industry attendees left the meeting intent on exploring the idea due to frustrations over their inability to compete in Europe's fragmented market.
"The operators expressed a deep sense of frustration and agreed to bring constructive ideas of how a European market could work," the newspaper quoted one person familiar with the meeting as saying.
"Objections won't come from Europe, they will be from the [EU's 27 national] regulators."
Establishing an EU-wide network-sharing agreement would face significant financial and technological obstacles due to the differences in infrastructure and national rules.
But the European market would more closely resemble the US and China markets, each of which only has three or four large groups.
It could also yield consumer benefits, such as single pricing for telecoms and internet services across the EU.
Almunia has taken a tough stance against national mergers that reduce competition. But the commissioner is open to cross-border harmonisation in a way that helps build a single EU market, generates cross-border services and drives digital investment.
Europe's telecoms companies, which dominate the continent's market through their various national subsidiaries, have been caught out by the region's financial difficulties and face rising competition from global technology groups.
Representatives of the European Commission, Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Telecom Italia and Telefonica were not immediately available to comment.