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Brussels, 19 May 2011

Digital Agenda: better choice & more competitive prices for German broadband customers thanks to EU action

German consumers stand to benefit from better choice and more competitive prices for broadband internet access thanks to EU action which has obliged the German Government to comply with EU law and so not protect Deutsche Telekom from competition on the broadband market. If applied as originally drafted, a German law would have made it difficult for telecom operators to compete on this market. As Germany has now removed the provision in question, the European Commission has closed the infringement case it had opened against Germany. The Commission has also closed a second infringement case against Germany concerning restrictions on the technologies allowed to use the 2.6 GHz radio frequency band. Germany's national rules have now been changed, opening the frequencies to all compatible wireless systems that provide telecoms services (i.e. not only mobile but also fixed wireless services). As a result, there is no longer any impediment to the roll-out of EU-wide wireless broadband services in that frequency band and customers stand to have more choice.

"Regulatory holidays"

The Commission launched an infringement proceeding against Germany in 2007 (IP/07/237, IP/07/595) because proposed amendments to the German telecoms law provided for an effective exemption of Deutsche Telekom AG’s fast internet access network (VDSL) from any measures taken by the German regulator to promote competition in this area of the telecoms market. In December 2009 the EU's Court of Justice confirmed (see Case C 424/07) the Commission's position that the new German law limited the discretionary powers of the national telecoms regulator, in contravention of EU telecoms rules. The Court also confirmed that existing and potential competitors were placed at an unfair advantage by this law.

The law, which was not applied in practice pending the case, was likely to result in less choice and higher prices for consumers concerning broadband internet offers.

As the amendment removing the provision from the German law was formally adopted in April 2011, the Commission has now closed the case.

The Commission's position in this case, as confirmed by the EU Court, makes clear that Member States cannot grant exemptions from competition to telecoms operators investing in broadband networks. The Commission Recommendation on Next Generation Access (NGA) networks adopted in September 2010 gives Member States telecoms regulatory authorities clear indications how they should regulate third-party competitive access to ultra-fast fibre networks (see MEMO/10/424). The Recommendation, part of a package of broadband measures presented by the Commission (see IP/10/1142), ensures an appropriate balance between the need to encourage investment and the need to safeguard competition. Investment in competitive high-speed and very high speed broadband networks is a key objective of the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200) and the Europe 2020 strategy.

Radio spectrum harmonisation

The Commission has also closed an infringement case opened in October 2009 (IP/09/1614) over Germany’s incorrect implementation of Commission Decision (2008/477/EC) harmonising the 2.6 GHz frequency band. The German frequency allocation plan was, in the Commission’s view, restricting the use of the band to the “mobile service” alone, thus creating an obstacle to the deployment of pan-European wireless broadband services.

EU rules state that this frequency band can be used for terrestrial systems that provide any telecoms service, including both mobile and fixed services. Any underlying technology can be used to provide this service, as long as the service respects certain technical parameters and does not interfere with neighbouring networks.

The case was closed as the German frequency ordinance was modified so that both mobile and fixed wireless services could use these frequencies.

An overview of telecoms infringement proceedings is available at:

For more information on EU infringement procedures, see MEMO/11/312.

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