EU Policy. Commission sets out policy options to ease cross-border operations for telcos

Thierry Breton spear-headed the Digital Networks Act.
Thierry Breton spear-headed the Digital Networks Act. Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Cynthia Kroet
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Commission’s digital network plan strongly divides bloc’s telecom companies and industry.


The European Commission today (21 February) launched a new round of discussions on the future of digital networks, presenting a paper paving the way for a new telecom law for the next mandate. One of the twelve possible scenarios mentioned in the whitepaper is easing the environment for European telecom companies to operate more easily across EU borders.

The paper, a leak of which Euronews reported on last week, sets out some options for the bloc’s digital infrastructure and examines how to address problems with connectivity, spectrum and investment, as new technological applications require more and more data processing, storage, and transmission and therefore an upgrade in infrastructure.

“Nothing prevents telcos from consolidating cross-border today, but because of different national rules they don't do this. We must create a single market for telcos,” European Commission Vice President Margarethe Vestager said.

“The whitepaper has several solutions, for example the installation of fibre, to make sure the same technology is used everywhere, as well as more spectrum governance on member state level. This creates the conditions for operators and scale across today's national markets,” Vestager added.

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The plans, first hinted at by EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton last year, led to a heated debate in 2023. 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.

In response to today’s whitepaper, CCIA Europe, representing the interest of online platforms, said that the idea of extending the current telecom rules, the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) should be “evidence-based”.

“Suggestions to extend the [the law's] scope could become a Trojan horse introducing mandatory payments to subsidise telcos’ network roll-out,” CCIA said in a statement.

ETNO, representing Europe’s telecom operators, welcomed the commission’s plans for “a more innovation-oriented, forward-looking and investment-friendly telecom policy,” and the “clear recognition of scale as an essential enabler”.

“In a software and cloud-defined world, the current levels of market fragmentation are simply against Europe’s strategic interest,” the statement said.

Separately, the EU executive also today published a recommendation for the national EU governments to improve the security and resilience of strategic submarine cable infrastructures. The document seeks to improve coordination within the EU, for example by streamlining procedures for permit granting.

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