Brussels, BELGIUM – Today, the European Commission presented a white paper on the future of the EU’s digital infrastructure. Although part of a non-legislative package, the paper does put forward some ideas that risk being hijacked by Big Telco interests.
The Commission’s new connectivity package serves as a handover note proposing possible options to the next Commission. The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA Europe) cautions that various parts of the paper could serve as a favour for incumbent telecom operators who want to resurrect their rejected ask for network fees in a different shape or form in the future.
CCIA Europe welcomes the fact that the Commission explicitly recognises there are no problems in the IP interconnection market that would justify regulatory intervention, be it network usage fees or any type of settlement or arbitration mechanism to the same effect.
However, that makes it even more disappointing to see the paper speculate on hypothetical scenarios in which such a mechanism “could be envisaged”, as it is one of the main asks of Big Telco CEOs, who continue to lobby for “fair share” payments around the world.
CCIA Europe also calls on the wider EU internet ecosystem to remain vigilant and ensure that any future review of the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) is evidence-based. Suggestions to extend the EECC’s scope* could become a Trojan horse introducing mandatory payments to subsidise telcos’ network roll-out, via a fund for example.
Although the paper marks the end of a long road for this Commission’s dialogue on connectivity – instead of a major next step – it is likely to be followed by a lobbying frenzy as incumbent telecom operators continue to demand handouts and anti-competitive favours from the next Commission.
Overall, it remains disappointing to see that this Commission continues to buy into the flawed narrative that telcos aren’t able to invest in the roll-out of high speed networks. Even telcos’ own numbers tell a very different story – money isn’t the issue.
CCIA actively supports the EU in reaching its 2030 connectivity targets in the most efficient way. The next Commission can achieve this by supporting the right connectivity investments and promoting technology diversification, instead of unnecessary regulatory intervention.
The following can be attributed to Senior Vice President and Head of CCIA Europe, Daniel Friedlaender:
“We hope this paper turns the page on the rejected and damaging idea of network fees once and for all. CCIA Europe looks forward to discussing the plethora of ideas presented today with the next Commission and soon-to-be-elected Members of the European Parliament.”
“For years, the EU connectivity debate has been dominated by unhelpful ideas geared only at helping a small sliver of the telecoms sector, it’s time to move on. Europe needs to support the connectivity sector as a whole, not prop up a few companies unwilling to compete fairly.”
The following can be attributed to CCIA Europe’s Policy Advisor, Maria Teresa Stecher:
“It is a shame the Commission’s white paper appears to provide a last lifeline to ideas that have already been dismissed. When it comes to the IP interconnection market in particular, it’s difficult to understand why the Commission talks about hypothetical solutions to a ‘problem’ that does not exist in the first place according to the Commission’s assessment.”
“The European Electronic Communications Code is set to be reviewed before December 2025. A fact-based debate on this should lead to well-informed policy making. Nevertheless, it’s important to stress already now that Europe cannot allow telecom operators to abuse this review to push for new mechanisms that would come down to network fees in disguise.”
Notes for editors
Today’s white paper (‘How to master Europe’s digital infrastructure needs?’) is part of a European Commission package on the future of digital networks and infrastructure.
This is a non-legislative package, setting the scene for possible ideas and legislative actions (such as a major overhaul of the regulatory framework governing the telecoms sector) that the next Commission might want to explore or consider.
The white paper launches a public consultation, running until the end of June 2024.
* The white paper, for instance, hints at the possibility of extending some of the EECC’s obligations to number-independent interpersonal communications services (NIICS) and cloud computing services. Any future changes to the EECC should be subject to proper impact assessments and broad consultations.