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Brussels, 2 September 2008
Today, the European Parliament will debate, in plenary session, the so-called EU Telecoms Reform, proposed by the Commission on 13 November 2007. Of particular importance in this debate will be the proposals made by the European Commission to give consumers of fixed and mobile phones and Internet services more rights and better choice (IP/07/1677). Today's debate among the European Parliament's 785 members is expected to pave the way for a vote of the Commission's entire EU Telecoms reform proposals in first reading on 23 September. The French presidency could broker a political agreement at the Council of Telecoms Ministers on 27 November. New consumer rights would then become law in all 27 EU Member States by 2010.
The following is an overview of the 7 most important consumer issues which will be debated today by the European Parliament.
1. More transparency and better information for consumers
To be able to choose the best offer available on the market, consumers need better information about prices, tariffs and other conditions. The European Commission therefore proposes that operators should be obliged to publish such information in an understandable and clear manner so that it is easy for consumers to access it and compare deals. Consumer organisations or businesses willing to produce easy-to-use interactive guides facilitating consumer choice will be free to use such tariff information. Where service providers fail to deliver, national telecom regulators will make the guides available themselves. They will also be responsible for setting detailed rules regarding the form in which such information is published.
2. "Broadband for all"
The Commission proposes to reform the management of radio spectrum by the EU Member States. This should facilitate the roll out of wireless services in Europe, especially of high speed wireless broadband connections which also reach less populated and rural areas outside the main cities. The Commission in particular proposes a coordination of approaches in the EU to optimise the overall benefits of the digital dividend (the radio spectrum freed as a result of the switchover from analogue to digital TV), thereby allowing new wireless services and also new TV channels in high definition quality to develop. Radio spectrum is a scarce public resource of a high economic and societal value, and a more efficient use of it could be a major boost to competitiveness, innovation and concrete consumer benefits in Europe. The Commission expects additional economic benefits from better spectrum management in the EU to be in the region of €10 billion/year, and consumers would be the main beneficiaries of this.
3. Switching service providers in 1 day without changing number
Consumers should be able to change their fixed or mobile operator while keeping their phone number – number portability – within 1 working day. For the Commission, this is a key facilitator of consumer choice and effective competition. At the moment, it takes 8 days on average to switch a fixed or mobile operator in the EU while keeping one's number. Europe's best performers are France for the fixed market and, for the mobile market, Ireland and Malta. It still can take up to 30 days to switch fixed operator in Estonia and up to 20 days to switch mobile operators in Italy and Slovakia.
EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding says on the issue of number portability: "In Australia, it is possible to switch operator within 2 hours – we should really be able to get this done in 1 day in Europe."
4. Better data protection: mandatory notification of security breaches
In the Commission's view, consumer trust in the security of communication services and the protection of their personal data is essential. Telecoms operators should therefore be obliged to inform their customers without delay whenever their personal data has been compromised (for example, illegally accessed, copied, or lost) as a result of a security problem.
This will allow people to take precautions against financial loss or ID fraud, for example by closely monitoring their bank accounts. The risk of bad publicity should also give operators an extra incentive to invest more in the security of their networks and services.
Recent events in the UK and in Germany have reaffirmed the need for action on data privacy, as identified by the Commission already in November 2007 when it made its reform proposals.
5. Better access for users with disabilities
The Commission wants to make sure that communications devices like PCs and mobile phones can be used by people with disabilities (eAccessibility). Users with disabilities will benefit from better access to telecoms services such as the 112 emergency services or TV channels with subtitles, audio descriptions or sign language. On 2 July, the Commission launched a public consultation on further measures that Member States can take to make websites, and other electronic services like ATMs, in Europe more accessible for the disabled (IP/08/1074). Making these services more accessible to, for example, the hard of sight, is also important because 25% of the total population is expected to be aged over 65 by 2020.
6. Securing basic "Net Freedoms"
For the European Commission, the open architecture of the Internet is of key importance for the Information Society. The Commission in particular considers that the following "net freedoms" should be general guidelines for regulators and policy makers: right for users to access and distribute (lawful) content, to run applications and connect devices of their choice.
The Commission therefore proposes, in the EU Telecoms reform, a transparency mechanism concerning possible restrictions on consumers’ choice of lawful content and applications so that consumers can make an informed choice of services and reap the full benefits of technological developments. In practice, consumers will get clear and timely information from their service providers about any restrictions that the providers place on their access to or use of Internet or mobile content and applications. This will allow them to pick and switch to the operator which best suits their needs. Where consumers have no alternative, service providers should not be allowed to block or restrict such access.
7. A more effective 112 European emergency number
The Commission proposes to improve access to emergency services, in particular through better caller location information and greater awareness of the single European emergency number 112. All providers of outgoing calls to public telephone numbers - including certain Voice over IP providers – will be obliged to provide access to emergency services. This should speed up access to emergency services in case of accidents or other emergencies.
On 112, see the recent overview made by the Commission of the effectiveness of implementation in the 27 EU Member States: IP/08/836
The European Commission tabled its proposals for the reform of EU Telecoms rules on 13 November 2007 (IP/07/1677, MEMO/07/458). Since then, the Council of Telecoms Ministers has debated the Commission proposals on two occasions at ministerial level (MEMO/07/522, MEMO/08/384). It is now time for the European Parliament, in full plenary session (after its Committees voted this July, (MEMO/08/491), to give its view.
23 September 2008: Vote on the EU Telecoms Reform Proposals in the European Parliament's plenary.
27 November 2008: the Council of Telecoms Ministers could pave the way for a political agreement under the French Presidency.
For more information:
Parliament's Press Release on July's vote:
European Commission reaction to the vote in the European Parliament's lead Committees on 7 July: MEMO/08/491
"Progress Made on the EU Telecoms Reform Package", Statement by EU Commissioner Reding after the Council of EU Telecoms Ministers on 12 June:
See also MEMO/08/551: EU Telecoms Reform: the 6 Most Important Issues Still Open