Telecoms watchdogs backed Commission in heated German broadband probe

Günther Oettinger, German Commissioner for energy, 2009-2014 [European Commission]

Günther Oettinger [European Commission]

A group of telecoms regulators backed the European Commission’s critique of a controversial German telecoms rule, according to a confidential opinion paper obtained by

Regulators from a handful of other EU countries, including France’s Arcep and the UK’s Ofcom, drafted an opinion paper on the German rule in June but have kept it under wraps after the German telecoms agency, the Bundenetzagentur, sent in a changed version of the regulation.

The watchdogs wrote in their 27-page opinion that they agreed with the Commission’s concerns that the German broadband rule might not comply with EU law.

The group wrote that it “supports the Commission’s view that [Bundesnetzagentur’s] draft decision does not sufficiently ensure, through the adequate imposition of remedies, that no distortion or restriction of competition will occur”.

The document reveals that regulators threw their weight behind the Commission after it clashed with giant operator Deutsche Telekom over the high-profile probe.

Before the executive opened the inquiry, MEPs, business associations and one German regional minister all wrote to German Commissioner Günther Oettinger and asked him to put a stop to the rule.

The executive opened an inquiry in May into whether the new regulation follows EU rules. The probe was supposed to last until August but was cut short when the Bundesnetzagentur suddenly sent a new, revised version to the Commission after a few weeks.

The German regulation came under fire for proposing that Deutsche Telekom could exclusively use the vectoring technology to update its copper wires and offer faster internet to some users. But competing firms like Vodafone argued the deal would choke off their access to customers.

Oettinger faces major test on German telecoms rules

Günther Oettinger is embroiled in a heated political fight that could result in a showdown with politicians in his home country next week over a major telecoms regulation.

Oettinger’s office now has until 20 July to decide whether to accept the changed version or open up another inquiry. If Oettinger expresses serious doubts about the new draft too, a second probe could escalate an already heated political fight between Brussels and Berlin while the German government struggles to meet its goal of drastically boosting internet speeds by 2018.

The regulators’ opinion was never officially sent to the Commission or the Bundesnetzagentur after the German agency sent in a new version of its regulation.

But the document shows that national telecoms regulators were ready to take a remarkably tough stance against their German colleagues. National watchdogs from around the EU meet to weigh in on telecoms policies through BEREC, the group of telecoms regulators.

A spokeswoman for BEREC declined to comment on the document.

Companies are still at odds over the controversial regulation: Competitors have argued that the new version of Bundesnetzagentur’s rule only includes cosmetic changes and is just as damaging to their business as the first. But a Deutsche Telekom spokesman told that the draft would favour competing operators.

One Commission official who is working on the executive’s response to the regulation dismissed claims that the new draft doesn’t show any improvements.

“There’s certainly movement. They’re really trying to address our serious doubts. Whether it’s sufficient or not is a different question,” the official told EURACTIV.

The official noted that the new draft no longer specifies that only one competing company in addition to Deutsche Telekom can access street cabinets that connect broadband cables. The Commission and BEREC both criticised that restriction in their opinions on the original draft regulation.

MEPs ask Oettinger to reverse German broadband decision in angry letter

Thirteen German MEPs sent a blistering letter to EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger slamming the German telecoms authority’s decision to allow the controversial vectoring technology on broadband networks.

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'.

In November 2015, the German national telecoms regulator approved a request by Deutsche Telekom to use the controversial vectoring technology to deliver highspeed broadband, which competing companies say will crowd out their access to networks. The executive was notified about the decision on 7 April 2016, and expressed "serious doubts" about whether it complied with EU law on 10 May.

The Commission started investigating the regulation and planned to announce a final decision in August. The German telecoms regulator then submitted a new, revised draft regulation on 20 June, giving the Commission until 20 July to decide whether it will also investigate the changed version.

  • 20 July: European Commission will announce its decision on the German vectoring regulation

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