January 13, 2013 5:56 pm

EU to foster unified telecoms market

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Europe’s telecommunications commissioner will lay down a series of far-reaching reforms this year to support the formation of a pan-European telecoms market, in order to foster greater competition and investment in a sector hard hit by the financial downturn.

Neelie Kroes, a vice-president of the commission, told the Financial Times that Brussels was determined to deliver the necessary policies to further harmonise the industry across national borders.

“We’re working on a range of measures to create common and stable conditions across the EU for telecoms competition, investment and growth, which should also make cross-border consolidation more attractive,” said Ms Kroes.

“Various forms of asset sharing can promote competition and investment – regulated access to dominant infrastructure on terms that support further investment by all players, access to other utilities’ infrastructure on reasonable terms [and] sharing of wireless assets such as masts or spectrum under clear conditions.”

Her strategic plans for 2013 come days after it emerged that the chief executives of Europe’s largest telecoms groups had met Joaquín Almunia, competition commissioner. Those talks ended with a promise to look into options about how a single European telecoms market could work.

Etno, the industry lobby group, said the telecoms companies would now present their findings about the possible creation of a single European market to Ms Kroes.

She said that while she was keen to harmonise the market further, she was not considering pushing for the creation of a single telecoms regulator at this stage. Rather, she stressed the need to strengthen co-operation between the commission and national regulators to drive the changes that the industry needs.

The commission will be giving more guidance during 2013 on the scope for network-sharing by competitors, including pooling infrastructure, to help telecoms companies speed up the rollout of faster 4G services. Brussels has already approved the sharing of radio spectrum as part of an effort to meet rising demand for wireless data traffic.

Among other initiatives, the commission plans to ease access to a range of infrastructure such as sewage ducts and rail tracks, which could bring down the costs of network building, as well as the existing networks being used by non-dominant telecoms companies.

Ms Kroes said 2013 would be a crucial year for the industry. “The ability . . . to deliver broadly harmonised regulation and a truly common EU telecoms market will be tested this year as never before. I trust that it will prove to be up to the challenge.”

As the commissioner for the digital agenda, Ms Kroes has already outlined plans for a single digital market across Europe, having complained of too many barriers blocking the free flow of online services and entertainment across national borders.

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