Last updated: April 17, 2013 7:12 pm

EU steps up single telecoms market plan

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European regulators are planning to aggressively accelerate plans to create a single regional telecoms market to help push through the far-reaching reforms before the end of European Parliament.

A blueprint for the hard-hit European telecoms industry will now be published in June, months ahead of an original deadline in the autumn, with hopes that regulations can be implemented before the end of the year.

The move could wrong-foot some in the industry who had been preparing their proposals, and in some cases opposition, for the original deadline in October.

Setting up a single European telecoms market has become the top priority for Neelie Kroes, Europe’s digital commissioner, and Brussels is keen to accelerate the process to get the plan approved before the European Parliament elections in 2014.

People familiar with the plans said it was still too early to be certain about the detail of the proposals being considered by Ms Kroes, although ideas are being worked on that will make cross-border mergers easier and foster a single consumer market across the region.

This could mean, for example, a European regulator to make decisions at a regional level, but also practical steps such as a European telephone number to cut out roaming charges. Spectrum could also be set aside that could be awarded on a European license to mobile operators. National regulators are likely to work in parallel with the new EU watchdog, according to one official in Brussels.

“We are accelerating our efforts. It’s essential for the sector and the wider economy,” Ms Kroes told the Financial Times.

“My number one priority in 2013 is making sure we agree with governments the elements needed to deliver a real single market. Then we will use the rest of this Commission term to put as many of those building blocks in place as we can.”

European telecoms groups complain that they are being hamstrung by regulations that prevent consolidation and the ability to match pricing to investment needs, which has contributed to the long-term decline in revenues from the already economically challenged market in the region.

We want to stop the decline of the sector. It will be a plan for the growth of the European telecom industry

- Luigi Gambardella, chairman of Etno

This has caused a knock-on effect in the ability of these large groups to invest in their networks, which are seen as essential future infrastructure to carry the internet and high speed communications, as well as compete with rivals in countries such as the US and China where there are far fewer operators.

The final draft proposal will be issued in October, but the June blueprint will allow all parties to suggest possible amendments ahead of this to remove objections.

The European telecoms industry body, Etno, will also make proposals ahead of the June deadline. Chief executives of the major telecoms incumbents met with Joaquín Almunia, EU competition chief, late last year to discuss the plans, which they hope will allow further consolidation in a fragmented European market where scale is crucial to investment in network infrastructure.

Luigi Gambardella, chairman of Etno, said: “We are already working with Boston Consulting Group to prepare our plan [and] will present it to the European Commission in a few weeks. We want to stop the decline of the sector. It will be a plan for the growth of the European telecom industry.”

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