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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
e-Communications: making Europe the connected, competitive continent
Conference on Perspectives for the development of the electronics communications market in the EU
Warsaw, Poland, 19th October 2011
Thank you for inviting me to talk here today.
e-Communications is, like all aspects of digital technology, a field which moves very quickly. And so it is extremely useful to have such an opportunity to keep in touch with Member States: I am grateful to the Polish Minister of Infrastructure for organising it.
Europe today stands to gain enormously from new communications technology. From an exotic technology used by a cutting-edge minority in the 80s, the mobile phone has become more pervasive than the fixed line, while the latest smartphones offer more computing power than NASA used to put a man on the moon.
This technology can transform our lives yet further. And we badly need investment in next generation networks: which will enable Europeans to access the services and applications of the future; which will allow businesses to expand and develop in an Internet-based ecosystem; and which will ensure that we stay competitive, able to offer smart jobs for the next generation.
Let me outline some of the ways we want to get that right; and explain our efforts to build the infrastructure essential to support tomorrow's communication needs.
I recently set out steps we are taking to design the right regulatory framework to ensure fair access to electronic communication networks, and speed up market investment in very high-speed next generation infrastructure. To achieve these goals within a Single Market, and get the best deal for consumers, we need predictable and consistent regulatory principles; the right incentives; transparency; and competition within and across borders. Therefore I have launched two consultations on non-discrimination and on access prices, with a view to a European approach which is consistent, effective, and competitive.
And where private money is not available, I want to promote public investment, both at EU and national level, to fill the gaps and boost investment.
On our side, the Commission has proposed for the next EU Financial Perspective a 9.2 billion euro "Connecting Europe Facility". This will fund the expansion of a high speed broadband network throughout Europe, and will also ensure interoperability of the public services which many Member States are currently bringing online. This EU money would leverage other private and public funds. Indeed the money we propose to set aside for broadband infrastructure could generate, overall, between 50 and 100 billion euros in investment.
Many Member States have already recognised the facility's enormous potential to stimulate growth, transform the economy, and prepare our society for a digital, innovative future. Our global competitors are moving quickly in this direction, and we must respond and keep the lead. So I hope our proposal will receive a very broad support. If we cannot do this, we will pay the price of a broadband roll-out which is slower and more expensive. And we will suffer fragmented public services, making access harder for all Europeans, including our increasingly international small businesses.
Of course, next generation fixed solutions are not the whole story: we also need wireless infrastructure. For the 90% of European households with access to a mobile; for the third of Europeans who can use their mobile to access the Internet; and as a competitive complement to fibre broadband access, particularly for those who live in more isolated areas. People increasingly want access to content anywhere, any time and on any device; and to meet this demand we need spectrum use which is more efficient, flexible and competitive.
With our proposed Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, the RSPP, it would be the first time that the Commission, Parliament and Member States had all agreed on strategic orientations for virtually all important aspects of spectrum policy.
It is a vision both pragmatic and challenging. Negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council are now at an advanced stage. And I would like, once again, to thank the Member States, and more particularly the Polish Presidency, as well as the Parliamentary negotiators for their hard work.
But we are not yet there. I would therefore urge all those involved to reach a political agreement in the coming days. We cannot afford to postpone critical milestones for European mobile services just because of delayed adoption of the RSPP. I remain optimistic: because we have already an agreement in principle on many aspects, including on the central element of establishing an inventory and review of spectrum use. However, we still need to make some steps forward on a few important issues to achieve the ambitious spectrum policy crucial for Europe's competitiveness. In particular, we must be able to anticipate and meet growing demand. We must allow a quick and easy leap ahead to 4G, offering better services to our citizens and business. Our systems must work in harmony in Europe and with our international partners. And we need a strong European voice in the international arena.
Getting this right is one of the most important decisions the EU faces. In the past we have had great successes: like developing the GSM standard, and liberalising markets. Now we need to replicate these successes, build the rails on which future communications will run, and speed forward ahead of the global pack. I therefore urge you to take one final leap forward.
I'd also like today to touch upon roaming. Because it is clear that without an appropriate regulatory intervention, huge roaming charges still stick out as an unacceptable obstacle to the Single Market, and a very intensely felt pain in the neck for those who travel within Europe; students, tourists, businessmen, and others.
It's not only a raw deal for consumers – although that is bad enough. It's also a total anomaly. If we had a well functioning and competitive Single Market, roaming within the EU would largely be an outdated concept.
We've already taken some action in the past. And indeed the current Regulation has to a certain extent made progress: by capping wholesale and retail prices it has stopped the worst excesses of abuse, providing both protection to consumers and confidence that they can use their phones abroad. However, prices remain clustered around regulated caps and competition is not developing. Therefore, in the absence of additional measures, roaming tariffs would probably increase again after the expiry of the current caps in July 2012.
And you will understand that this is not acceptable for me. I don't just want to treat the symptoms, I want to cure the disease. I want true competition and consumer choice to emerge in the roaming services market, so that consumers can benefit from lower prices, on a lasting basis.
The structural measures we have proposed will do this, stimulating both supply and demand for roaming services. As a transitional, stopgap measure we need to keep and progressively reduce price caps. But really, we need a solution that strikes at the structural heart of the problem – a lack of competition and a lack of consumer choice.
Let me stress that we are open to examining different technical solutions to implement our proposed structural measures. However, what really matters is that the final solution we implement will have to allow alternative providers to come up with competitive roaming offers. And it has to be user-friendly so that consumers can easily shop around and choose the best roaming deal for their needs. Ultimately, it has to make it cheaper and fairer for mobile users to travel within the EU.
I look forward to your constructive support in this ongoing negotiation. But time is not our friend, if a new set of rules is to be in place before the current regulation expires at the end of June 2012. I therefore hope that a good agreement between the co-legislators can be found quickly: for the sake of a competitive Single Market, and for the sake of European consumers.
Lastly, a brief reminder on the revised EU electronic communications regulatory framework. This legislation was a significant step forward, reinforcing competition, providing incentives to invest, and giving consumers important new rights such as the right to switch phone operators quickly and easily.
I want us to get these benefits, and I want consumers across the Single Market to get them consistently, so that we have a level playing field. So the legislation needs to be implemented in all the Member States. I have said before that the Commission will not hesitate to take action where Member States do not correctly transpose the framework, and in July indeed we made the first steps in that direction. I hope the remaining countries will quickly complete implementation.
This is a brief overview of some of the many challenges facing us all in the field of e-Communications. I am grateful to the constructive spirit you have all shown in taking these forward, and I look forward to many further discussions in the future. Continuing the momentum of the communications revolution is of huge importance for Europe. If we carry on riding the crest of this wave, we can harness its power to drive us forward beyond the economic crisis.
If we do not invest in building these foundations for the future, we will remain stuck in the past. At a time of crisis, our people turn to us, as politicians, and expect us to do our jobs: to build a better future. So let's create the climate that supports tomorrow's communications, to make Europe a connected, competitive continent.