EU Committee of the Regions: EU Telecoms reform must be re-examined and subject to proper consultation

While welcoming the overall objective of moving towards a single market for electronic communications, members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) commission for Education, Youth, Culture and Research (EDUC) have warned about the adverse effects that such a far–reaching reform will have on local and regional authorities. EDUC members also note that there has been a lack of public consultation. They therefore call for the proposal to be urgently re-examined and for a more gradual harmonisation of the sector.
On 13 November, the CoR’s EDUC commission unanimously adopted a draft opinion prepared by Frank Zimmermann (PES/Germany), Member of the Berlin House of Representatives, on the European Commission’s ambitious plan to complete the telecoms single market and deliver a “Connected Continent”. The draft opinion underlines that changes to the European legal framework for electronic communications must take due account of the de facto and de jure situation in the Member States and regions.

“The proposed Regulation is premature and does not do justice to the objective set because of considerable hidden problems”, stressed the rapporteur who supports a more gradual harmonisation. He furthermore deplores that the European Commission’s proposal was not submitted to public consultation beforehand to allow all interested parties, including, local and regional authorities, to express their views.

The rapporteur is also cautious about the single authorisation procedure for telecoms operators, fearing that it may lead to greater legal uncertainty and to a race to the bottom. He also expresses concerns regarding the further transfer to the EU of competences concerning frequency management. Another issue of concern is net neutrality and the extent to which it can be safeguarded through the provision of special services and the introduction of numerous exceptions.

“The choice of a Regulation as a legal instrument is questionable when it comes to frequency management and ensuring net neutrality”, pointed out the rapporteur. He however argued in favour of this legal instrument for regulating roaming charges across the EU but cautioned against the effect upon the cost of domestic calls of the abolition of roaming charges for incoming calls.
Furthermore, the draft opinion raises concerns at the lack of funding for broadband expansion under the Connecting Europe Facility for 2014-2020 and calls for the financing of digital infrastructure in all EU regions through the Structural funds.
All these concerns are reflected in the CoR draft opinion with proposals for concrete legislative amendments to the European Commission’s initiative.

The European Commission’s proposal for a Regulation for the completion of the telecoms single market and the creation of a genuine “Connected Continent” is part of a package of regulatory proposals. The overall aim is to move away from the current practice whereby the telecoms sector still operates largely on the basis of 28 national markets. Key elements of the proposal are: the simplification of EU rules for telecoms operators (through, inter alia, a single authorisation for operating in all 28 Member States), the abolition of roaming charges on incoming calls as of 1 July 2014, the abolition of international call premiums within the EU, a ban on blocking and throttling of Internet content (“net neutrality”), new harmonised consumer rights and coordinated spectrum assignment.
The Commission’s proposal has been criticised for the fact that it comes before the 2012 Roaming Regulation has had time to bear fruit, thus creating legal uncertainty. Last year’s Regulation, still in force, subjects operators to wholesale price cuts of 67% for data in July 2014.

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