Safeguarding e-communications services for all in the internet era: Commission opens policy debate
European Commission - IP/05/594 24/05/2005
Brussels, 24 May 2005
There is no need to introduce new legal requirements for mobile and high-speed internet services under the EU’s universal service rules at the moment, says the European Commission in a Communication issued today, but there is a need for but a forward-looking policy debate,. The Universal Service Directive, in place since 2002, seeks to safeguard good e-communications services throughout the EU by dealing with circumstances in which the basic consumer needs are not satisfactorily met by the market. This means the possibility to impose financial cross-subsidies from one group of customers to another. The review Communication issued today finds that consumers already have widespread affordable access to mobile communications, so universal service obligations would not benefit the consumer. And so far only a small – although fast-growing – minority has a high-speed (broadband) internet connection, so subjecting broadband to universal service obligations would result in unfair financial transfers between consumers. However, in the future, as services traditionally carried by telephone networks become more and more internet-based, the focus of universal service may evolve towards providing an affordable broadband access link for all.
“All consumers should be able to participate in the Information Society and reap its benefits. The EU rules for e-Communications therefore provide a universal service safety net for those who cannot use services that most of us take for granted”, commented Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “At the moment, it is very clear that market developments do not justify additional EU regulatory intervention to extend the scope of universal service to mobile and broadband communications. However, the growth of internet-based services, such as those provided using Voice over internet (see IP/05/167), challenges the current universal service requirements based on access to the public telephone network. I therefore expect today’s Communication to launch a forward-looking policy debate among all stakeholders, so as to ensure that the Directive on Universal Service and Users’ rights keeps pace with market developments as well as with technological and societal progress.”
The Communication notes that mobile communication services are now a mass market: in 2004, at least 80% of EU citizens were using them. At the same time, several competing broadband technologies have been rolled out, offering high-speed network access that supports delivery of digital content and communications. The number of broadband access lines deployed across the EU rose by over 72% in the year to mid-2004, to 29.6 million, when the share of the EU population actually using broadband services was 6.5% (7.6% in the pre-accession EU 15 Member States).
Broadband take-up is growing so fast that the latest data, compiled since the Communication was finalised, suggests that 8.8% of the EU population now has a fixed broadband connection.
The current "universal service" provision of the EU regulatory framework for e-communications covers (1) a connection to the public telephone network at a fixed location and (2) access to publicly available telephone services where the connection enables voice and data communications services – at narrowband speeds – with functional access to the Internet. Universal service providers are free to use any technology, whether wired or wireless, that is capable of delivering the service.
The Commission reviews periodically the scope of universal service, this review being the first under the EU regulatory framework for e-communications of 2002. Further information on the framework can be found at:
Interested parties are invited to comment on today’s Commission Communication until 15 July 2005. The consultation results will feed into a second Commission Communication in 2005, which will include a summary of consultation results and the final Commission position on this review.