EU Policy. Leaked digital network plans hint at broader telecom rules

The DNA will be presented on 21 February.
The DNA will be presented on 21 February. Copyright Mauro Bottaro/EU
By Cynthia Kroet
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The draft EU policy paper seen by Euronews comes as telecom operators and big tech giants squabble over who should pay for broadband network rollout.

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A leaked European Commission policy document hints at a broadening of the bloc's telecoms rules, but stops short of proposing actual new laws, for now.

The white paper, preparing the ground for a subsequent Digital Networks Act (DNA), sets out some future scenarios for the bloc’s digital infrastructure and examines how to address problems with connectivity, spectrum and investment.

The plan, due to issue on 21 February and seen by Euronews, is meant to cater for “the increasing convergence between electronic communications networks and cloud services,” the document said.

Options could include broadening the scope of today's EU telecoms rules, which safeguard network access and competition, to “ensure a regulatory playing field” with equal rights for all companies active in the sector, the document said.

It could also mean more harmonisation of spectrum, which is needed for the roll-out of high-capacity networks including 5G.

The commission is looking for suggestions from industry and national governments, but the leaked document stopped short of specifying when the consultation will end.

Debate

The initiative, spearheaded by EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton, has already led to significant expectations and a heated debate.

The telecoms industry has argued major content providers — which use telecoms infrastructure and create traffic — should pay for network rollout, though big tech firms argue any extra fees would simply raise consumer costs.

Breton has said in a blog post that telecoms operators need scale and agility to adapt to innovations like the cloud, but that national markets hold them back.

"Too many regulatory barriers to a true telecoms single market still exist, on spectrum acquisition, consolidation, legacy networks, security, and so on," Breton wrote.

The leaked paper questions whether the telecoms sector can fund the necessary investment, and cites fragmentation as a reason for the shortfall.

Future legislation stemming from the whitepaper will come when the new commission takes office after the June EU elections.

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