Friday, November 28, 2008

Europe - telecommunications package - reforms

Telecommunications package: unanimous agreement of the 27 on the text

Luc Chatel, the French Minister of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs, who presided over the Telecommunications Council in Brussels on Thursday 27 November, welcomed the political agreement reached on the Telecommunications Package. Eric Besson, the French Minister of State for Forward Planning, Assessment of Public Policies and Development of the Digital Economy, then presided over the next part of the Council on promoting the information society and the internet of the future.

This Council brought together the telecommunications ministers of the 27 Member States of the European Union and the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding.

The Presidency recalled that telecommunications present a real economic opportunity for Europe and a fundamental lever for growth in the context of the current crisis: a better use of information and communication technologies (ICT) would enable growth of half a point, i.e. half the growth differential between Europe and the United States over the last 12 years. However, to respond to tomorrow’s challenges, the sector needs to be reformed. The aim of the Telecommunications Package is to adapt the legal framework for telecommunications to the coming changes (process of convergence, deployment of very high speed fibre optic and mobile networks, increased consumer protection).

The agreement on the Telecommunications Package represents major advances :

- Market regulation will be improved, better coordinated, and adapted to the challenges to come. Several provisions will facilitate consideration of the challenge of deploying new generation networks. Mechanisms to ensure more coherence in applying market regulation will be enhanced. The European Regulators Group will be institutionalised and its governing structure amended to ensure more transparency and efficiency in its decision-making process. In addition, the package henceforth provides that national regulators should take the utmost account of opinions published by the Commission and justify themselves if they move away from them.

- A pragmatic evolution of frequency management (spectrum management) will enhance the economic value of this rare resource. A certain number of new principles have been set out, in respect of the principle of subsidiarity, such as service neutrality, reconciled with considering services of general interest. Furthermore, the European Parliament’s wish to be more involved in the strategic reflections on spectrum policy was taken on board.

- Lastly, consumer protection will be considerably enhanced with improved transparency and contractual information and measures aimed at users with a disability, deadlines for transferring a number reduced to one day to make it easier to change operator, and enhanced protection of users’ private lives and the fight against spam, notably by SMS, with an incentive to penalise service providers responsible for illicit messages.

The negotiation process with the European Parliament will continue with a view to the final adoption of the Telecommunications Package by the end of 2009.

In addition to these advances on the Telecommunications Package, the Presidency welcomed the guideline adopted by the Council on regulating roaming communications from one EU country to another.

Three flagship provisions for consumers were made:

- Fixing the rates for sending an SMS between EU countries at 11 euro cents (excluding VAT) as opposed to an average of 29 euro cents (excluding VAT) at present;

- Roughly halving the ‘Eurotariff’, the limit for calls made or received from one European country to another. The ministers also proposed that these calls should henceforth be invoiced per second (after a first 30 second bloc);

- For sending or receiving e-mails or consulting the internet on mobiles, Luc Chatel proposed to his counterparts that operators should systematically and without charge provide their clients with a mechanism for interrupting the connection when their bill reaches a ceiling of €50 per month. This mechanism would be an effective response to the growing phenomena of ‘bill shock’ – very high bills, sometimes of several thousand euros, which consumers are not aware of until they receive them.

These dispositions will now be debated with the European Parliament with a view to their final adoption by mid-2009.


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