The European Commission’s claim that this weeks proposed new telecoms regulation constitutes “the most ambitious plan in 26 years of telecoms market reform” is preposterous. That honour must belong to the set of new directives in 2002 which transformed the structure of telecoms regulation and facilitated competition throughout Europe.
Instead the plans make great play of a number of actually pretty minor changes:
In respect of roaming, the proposal is that mobile operators will be incentivised to put customers on “roaming like at home” package by default because if they do so they can avoid the requirement (as from July 2014) to allow their customers to buy roaming from a separate provider – something which is already law as a result of last year’s “roaming regulation”. In practice we can expect that many of the large mobile operators will simply choose to ignore this incentive and to carry on as planned. It is likely that they will see the threat of competition from a new set of “roaming service providers” – who would need to sign up end-users for roaming services individually – as being less significant than the cost of removing roaming costs entirely.
In respect of the Single EU Authorisation the commission says that it is replacing 26 authorisation regimes with one. Whilst this is true it ignores the fact that in some cases – most notably in the UK – it will actually increase red-tape by requiring service providers to submit, and to update, a notification where there is currently no such requirement at all.
In respect of net neutrality the commission proposes to prohibit service providers from blocking or restricting specific types of content, applications or services. The commission fails, though, to provide any evidence that this type of blocking or restriction is a problem. Unlike in the US, EU users face much more competition when it comes to service provision and so as a result these types of restrictions are less common. Where do exist, though, is in the mobile market where some providers offer services which block “over the top” data services like Skype. Even here the regulation has a number of exceptions and qualifications what are likely to allow the current practices to continue.
Aside from these there are a few other changes which really constitute tinkering rather than a transformation – examples include new Commission powers to veto remedies proposed by national regulators, greater harmonisation of consumer protection measures and plans to try to co-ordinate spectrum authorisation better between countries.
The proposal, in fact, is notable more for the things is does NOT include than for the things it does. It does not, for example, propose the creation of a pan-European telecoms regulator and neither does it allow for the creation of pan-European spectrum licences. Either of these proposals would genuinely have been a radical change (especially the latter) and it is regrettable that neither of them has been included.
The full proposal is here