According to Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market,"The Internet is the oxygen of our digital economy and society. We are more and more connected, at every moment, everywhere.” -
...It will come as no surprise therefore that part of the Digital Single Market Strategy is the improvement of accessibility to, among other things, fixed and wireless broadband. On Friday 11 September 2015, the Commission launched a 360 degree review of Europe’s current and future broadband requirements as well as a 360 review of the telecoms rules.
The broadband consultation…
As part of the broadband consultation, the Commission hopes to hear not only from organisations but also from the general public - in fact the consultation is open to all “users, organisations, public bodies, and businesses across all sectors”. Casting the net wide will allow the Commission to gain perspective not only on businesses that “develop applications and services that depend on connectivity” like eBay, Facebook and Uber, but will also allow it to anticipate general household need and put together a conclusive plan to ensure the necessary requirements are met both in business and private use.
The broadband consultation is based upon the quality, speed and availability of internet connectivity that will be required in the future. By understanding what Europe will need in the years to come, the Commission hopes to be better equipped to create effective policies to promote the growth and strength of connectivity networks and incentivise investors to fund them.
Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said: "More than ever, Europe needs top-class connectivity. This will ultimately determine the success of the Digital Single Market. We therefore need rules that underpin sustainable, market-based, high-performance fixed and wireless broadband infrastructures for 2020 and beyond.”
Completion of the Digital Single Market is the ultimate goal which has the aim of creating a Union without barriers to cross-border internet trade. This, in turn is part of the wider strategy of completing the internal market - one of the fundamental aims of the European Union (often called “the single market imperative”). The single market imperative envisages the free movement of goods between member states within the EU. The Commission has recognised that promotion of internet trade is critical to breaking down such trade barriers between member states. A key factor to achieving this is ensuring that satisfactory broadband is readily available.
The telecoms consultation...
The telecoms consultation is focused on obtaining the views of Member States, regional and local authorities for electronic communications networks / services as well as from providers and operators of electronic communications about reform of the “2009 Telecoms Package”. It seeks information about network access regulation, universal service and telecoms governance, as well as spectrum management. It also canvases views on key pieces of legislation in this area (such as the 2002 Framework Directive). The overall aim is to unify Europe’s telecoms industry and reduce / eradicate inequalities between the Member States’ telecoms regulations and pricing structures.
The Commission has already made steps towards increasing connectivity across Europe earlier this year. On 30 June 2015, the European Parliament reached agreement with the Commission and Council, to bring about an end to roaming charges on the use of the internet for consumers travelling within Europe by June 2017. Roaming charges have long been seen as a barrier to the use of cross-border services - outside their country of residence travellers and business people have not always been able to use services they were accustomed to using at home, such as accessing emails, using online maps or even messaging home, without incurring increased charges. The agreement of 30 June 2015 also enshrined net neutrality rules in EU law with the aim of “protecting the right of every European to access Internet content without discrimination”(press release). On 27 October 2015, the European Parliament adopted the draft legislation which has been subject to significant debate. The concern was that the text is too vague and could easily be circumvented and, for example, lead to “zero rating.” This refers to situations where certain sites such as Facebook are not included in a user’s monthly data package, enabling users to access these sites for free and as often as they like. This has been viewed as discriminating against other sites, access to which is charged at a fee. It may now fall to BEREC, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, to interpret the legislation, if possible, in a way that provides further clarity on such issues. It will ultimately be for national regulators to apply.
The adoption of these measures are seen as “the first step towards a single telecoms market” (EU press release). The two consultations are open until 7 December 2015. You can submit a response to the consultations at #EUhaveyoursay.