The European Union’s regulatory framework for electronic communications is a series of rules that apply throughout the EU Member States. These rules are designed to encourage competition, improve the functioning of the market and guarantee basic user rights. But as digital technologies continue to change at an ever-increasing pace, this framework is in need of an overhaul.
Since the last review in 2009, electronic communications networks and services have been undergoing significant structural changes characterised by a slow transition from copper to fibre, more complex competition with the convergence of fixed and mobile networks, and the emergence of heavyweight online players (so called OTTs) that challenge the role of traditional service providers. Simultaneously, end-user expectations and requirements have exploded.
The European Commission has now held a consultation about how to modernise the law to suit the new reality, while helping to achieve its overarching aim of creating a true single digital market in Europe. The emphasis is changing from simply promoting services competition to creating an environment that also encourages investment in new infrastructure. In parallel, the Commission has also consulted Europe’s citizens on their anticipated broadband needs beyond 2020.
The FTTH Council Europe submitted its responses to these EU consultations. In short, the position of the FTTH Council Europe is pro-competition, but primarily pro-infrastructure competition. We believe that the regulatory model should express a strong preference for fibre. The evidence for this approach is strong: in countries where fibre has been identified as a target – such as Lithuania, Portugal, Spain and Sweden – they have achieved much higher penetration of FTTH networks and faster progress towards the Digital Agenda targets.
This does not mean we reject other technologies. On the contrary, we are in favour of technological neutrality, but insist upon a reasonable assessment of future digital needs. We see fibre as the element that underpins the telecoms network ecosystem while other technologies are complementary. Wireless is not a substitute but rather a complement and indeed a driver for fibre, because wireless broadband depends on the presence of fibre very deep in the network.
When the long-term view is taken, all indicators point to FTTH as being the most appropriate solution. With this in mind, we wish to see long-term investors in the sector, who are capable of taking the necessary perspective, and see structural separation as one possible enabler, at least in rural areas, that could draw in more investment by separating investment in the long-term physical infrastructure assets from the short-term and rapidly evolving retail services market.
The public sector also has an important role to play. On the demand side of the equation, we see a need for public services to be developed with FTTH capability in mind. There is also a role for the public sector on the supply side – specifically, we see a need for public subsidy to bring advanced broadband services to rural areas in order to achieve equality of access for all Europe’s citizens.