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IP/06/488

Brussels, 11 April 2006

Telecoms: the current “universal service” safety net of the EU still works well, say stakeholders

Stakeholders endorse the Commission’s view that there is at present no need to extend the “universal service” safety net to mobile and high-speed internet services, says a Commission report, issued today. Consumers already have widespread affordable access to mobile communications within their home countries, and so far only a minority has high-speed internet connections, so the cost of extending universal service obligations to these services would exceed benefits to users. This report, which will be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council, reviews the scope of EU universal service rules, and summarises replies to a public consultation based on the Commission’s 24 May 2005 Communication on the same subject (see IP/05/594).

“This report reflects a broad stakeholder consensus that bringing mobile and high-speed internet services to users is best left to the market, except where structural problems such as geographical remoteness justify specific public investment to help bridge the broadband gap” commented Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “However, stakeholders also generally agree that the concept and provision of universal service which safeguards access to basic but vital communications services for disadvantaged users, does need to be updated for the internet age. This year’s review of the EU’s electronic communications rules will give the opportunity to look at provision of universal service in an IP world”.

The public consultation on universal service was based on the Commission’s 24 May 2005 Communication and the associated Commission Staff Working Paper, which were posted on the Commission’s web pages, with a reply deadline of 15 July 2005.

76 contributions were received from a wide range of stakeholders, including governments, regulatory authorities, non-governmental organisations (in particular representing consumer and user interests as well as people with special needs), private citizens, operators, service providers, manufacturers and other businesses and organisations[1]. Several comments focused solely on the long-term questions.

Many contributors observed that mandating any specific technology in a fast-changing technological landscape would be problematic, and that any extension of the scope of universal service and its financing would risk deterring competition, hindering investment and stifling innovation.

While consumer organisations specialising in electronic communications supported the Commission’s conclusions, a number of consumer and other organisations felt that the review criteria of the Universal Service Directive or the Commission’s assessment were too restrictive, and advocated extending the scope of universal service to mobile and/or broadband services. The Commission has already decided in March to take account of some of the remaining concerns by its “Broadband for all Policy” (see IP/06/340).

Some contributors raised additional questions, such as concerns about quality of service and unjustifiably high international roaming charges. Some comments also related to other user rights and interests in communications such as access to emergency services (which is covered by a specific provision in the Universal Service Directive). All these issues are outside the focus of this review of the Universal Service Directive. However, the contributions will provide input for the policy debate in the context of the general regulatory review in 2006.

The public consultation findings are available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/ecomm/info_centre/documentation/communic_reports/index_en.htm

Background

The current universal service provision of the EU regulatory framework for electronic 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 capable of delivering the service, wired or wireless.


[1] Geographically the contributions represented 16 out of 25 Member States while over 40% came from three major countries: UK 16, Germany 9, France 8, Spain, 5, Portugal 4, Austria 3, Belgium 3; Czech Republic, Greece, Finland, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - 1 or 2 each; European or international associations – 14, available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/ecomm/info_centre/documentation/public_consult/universal_service/index_en.htm.


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