The European Commission published, on September 11, 2015, a public consultation on the evaluation and review of the regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services. The public consultation is a first step in the future reform of the regulatory framework, which constitutes one of the 16 strategic measures that will be implemented before the end of 2016 in order to create a Digital Single Market, in accordance with the 10 priorities defined by the Commission on July 15, 2014.
A first step toward a Digital Single Market was taken on June 30, 2015, with the conclusion of the agreement between the Commission and the European Parliament on the proposal for a regulation regarding a single European market and aiming at making Europe a connected continent. The agreement should lead to the adoption, before the end of the year, of a regulation establishing measures concerning an open internet and modifying the rules regarding roaming. Published on September 11, 2013, the original version of the regulation project (also called "Connected Continent Regulation") was more ambitious and modified the text of the Telecom Package, but all its provisions not related to the principle of net neutrality and to roaming were removed from it by the agreement dated July 30, 2015.
In this context, two years after the publication of the proposal for the Connected Continent Regulation, the Commission launched a public consultation on the evaluation and review of the regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services. The exact content of the upcoming reform, which should be published in the spring of 2016, is not revealed yet, but if the reform carries forward the provisions removed from the Connected Continent Regulation, it will notably focus on the following issues:
- Single authorization: single authorization/notification system and conditions applicable to operators who benefit from them; principle of equality of treatment in different Member States; issue of the payment of administrative fees and the contributions to the financing of the universal service;
- Radio spectrum resources: definition of the regulatory common principles applicable to the Member State during the adoption of the terms and conditions of radio spectrum; adoption by the Commission of measures in order to harmonize the availability of radio spectrum, the timetable of their assignment and the duration of the rights to use them; simplification of the conditions concerning the deployment and supply of wireless broadband access (Wi-Fi, small cells);
- Virtual access to fixed telecommunications networks: definition of the common characteristics to harmonize the high speed broadband virtual access (virtual unbundling, IP bitstream access, and segments of leased lines); obligation imposed on national regulators to take into consideration the introduction of this type of harmonized products when they impose regulatory measures;
- Rights of end-users: nondiscrimination between certain national communications and communications within the EU; mandatory precontractual and contractual information; transparency and systems to avoid bill shocks; implementation of a right to cancel contracts after six months, etc.;
- Other measures: harmonization of the procedures to switch supplier; national regulatory authorities to take into consideration the competitive pressure emanating from OTT ("over-the-top"); etc.
The 218 questions asked in the public consultation allow us to identify the major concerns of the Commission, in particular regarding the network access regulation, the issues regarding spectrum management and wireless connectivity, the regulation of electronic communications, and the universal service regime, as well as the institutional setup and governance of the sector.
Thus, the upcoming reform, which will modify the directives and the regulations constituting the Telecom Package, could have a significant impact on operators and suppliers of electronic communications services, especially if the reform is adopted through a Regulation, which will be, as a consequence, directly applicable to all Member States.
This consultation is significant and of urgent concern for the following reasons:
- OTT pressure on operators keeps increasing in favor of a non-adapted regulation.
- The need for the deployment of high speed networks poses a critical challenge to operators in terms of investments.
- TeliaSonera and Telenor's recent withdrawal from their proposed merger illustrates Europe's difficulty enabling the emergence of international champions.
Therefore, we invite operators, electronic communications suppliers, and internet players to respond to the public consultation available online and open until December 7, 2015.