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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Building a connected, communicating single market
Public hearing: A Single Telecom Market for Growth and Jobs in Europe/ Brussels
17 June 2013
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Today we stand on the cusp of an amazing transition. Information and communications technology is changing our world; great new innovations are on the horizon. From connected cars to cloud computing. Video-conferencing to 3D printing. Mobile payments and machine-to-machine communications. Smart supply chains to smart cities. New devices and new services that provide all of these. A technological transformation for how we live and work, how we interact and transact.
But we face a huge problem. All those innovations rely on networks. Networks that are resilient, fast, pervasive. And we don't have them. Just 2% of EU homes have an ultrafast subscription above 100 Megabits. For mobile, average European data speeds are half of those of the US. Combined, the US, Japan and South Korea have 88% of the world's 4G connections; in Europe, we have 6%.
We have a choice. A choice about what our future economy should look like. And a choice about whether we are prepared to change to ensure it.
Current trends are not sustainable. Operators cannot reach economies of scale, and face barriers at every turn. They can't think European and compete globally. They can't invest in the broadband we need. Our citizens cannot enjoy innovative new services. And companies doing business in different member states don't have the networks to match: because arranging seamless communication services is costly and difficult. And that's a serious barrier to growth.
Over recent weeks I have discussed this with many.
All of them agree we need to use the power of the single market.
We cannot unlock these problems without a single market key.
In spite of that consensus, there are clearly different approaches possible.
For me, the most important thing is to act quickly. The world is changing fast, technology is moving fast, and we need to act fast to save our economy.
So I do not want to take some big ideological initiative. I don't want to get rid of national regulators. I don't want to needlessly centralise into new institutions. I don't want to grab powers or rights "just because". Even if that were desirable, and even if ultimately successful, it would take too long to achieve, by which time it might anyway be out of date.
But here's what I do want. I want to look at all the barriers our market currently faces. And bring them down. Pragmatically, achievably, and fast. Because our economy cannot afford to wait.
Today we are in listening mode. I want to hear your ideas. But I also want to be transparent and open with you about our thinking.
You have that thinking in detail written down in front of you. But let me remind you of some of the problems we face today, and how we could fix them.
For one thing, operators find it too hard to break into new markets. They need separate authorisations under separate systems, for each country of operation. A "passport" would mean that if you can operate in one member state, you can operate in any member state. Without extra bureaucracy. Just like in other sectors that enjoy the single market boost, from banking to broadcasting.
But to travel across borders, you don't just need a passport: you need a road. The same goes for telecoms: you need a network. We will make it easier to run a network across borders, with better interconnections and new access products.
And for wireless networks too. Currently the spectrum map of Europe is so uncoordinated, it looks like a plate of spaghetti! Only at least spaghetti is rich in fibre!
So handset makers largely ignore the European market when planning their latest gadget. And it makes it harder to plan and bid across borders: when each country's auction or sale takes place at different times, under different conditions.
And, to travel across borders, you also need consistent rules and a consistent quality of service. Operators shouldn't have to deal with a mess of different rules, regulators and remedies in each member state. Citizens should enjoy consistent consumer protection, wherever they or their operator are from.
And we should have consistent rules to safeguard the open internet, so bright ideas don't get blocked or throttled. But without banning premium services – so the sector can innovate to provide new ideas, and consumers have the chance to enjoy something extra.
The EU has already taken action on mobile roaming: removing barriers, making prices fairer, and introducing choice. But we still aren't there. Many citizens, for example, buy their minutes and megabytes as part of a "bundle". But that bundle normally only works at home – rarely across the single market. I want to develop quick solutions that build on what we've already achieved, but the end goal must be clear. I know many of us dream of a true, integrated single market. And in such a market, there is no roaming.
Some talk about the elements in this package: how they like this bit, but not that one. About how this bit is "for consumers" but that bit is "for businesses". About whether we've got the balance right in one set of interests "against" another.
Against! Well, let me remind you, businesses aren't in competition with their customers. Neither exists without the other! So for those who say – I find this bit sweet, but this bit sour, I say that's the wrong way to look at it. This is a package to benefit everyone.
If citizens and companies get higher-quality services and a fairer deal, they will use those services more. Look at the US mobile market: revenues per subscription are nearly double the EU – even though the call cost per minute is over three times lower.
Here's my point: we shouldn't be fighting over crumbs: we should be making the pie bigger. And that is exactly what we will do: with fewer barriers, better services, and fairer prices.
And to those who say that everything is fine, I say no way. The status quo is not sustainable. In the telecoms sector itself, many are doing very badly. Revenues decline by 1% to 2% a year, while in the rest of the world they are increasing 5% or more.
Let me be clear. I want to see that sector grow and succeed.
But this is about more than any one sector. It's about the wider ICT ecosystem – where European players struggle to compete. It's about every economic sector that relies on ICT infrastructure and innovation, from transport to television.
The fact is, the whole economy craves connectivity: every sector, every citizen. That's a great opportunity; of growth for the telecoms sector, of growth for everyone. Let's make sure we capture it.
Esko Aho, former Finnish Prime Minister, makes a point about another network, built a century ago. As he puts it: "No one looks back now and thinks investment in railways was a bad thing. And the impact was not about growing the travel market. The real impact was how it transformed coal and steel production and supply; how it transformed trade; how it changed people's understanding of their country."
He thinks broadband is exactly the same situation. And so do I. Broadband is the backbone for tomorrow's economy, essential infrastructure we will come to absolutely rely on.
I am determined to ensure that investment. Determined to build a connected, competitive continent. Over recent weeks I have spoken with colleagues in the Commission, the European Parliament, and Council: and it's clear they are determined too. They agree on this principle, that this is something Europe needs. And we will be coming forward with our proposal first thing in September. I hope you share that vision. And I look forward to your ideas on what we need, and how to achieve it.