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European telcos call for faster regulatory reform

Some of Europe's largest telecommunications groups have written an open letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, calling for urgent reform of digital communication market regulations.18 Jun 2015

Europe is on the edge of a "digital investment and infrastructure revolution" and faces a once in a lifetime opportunity, the letter said.

The letter is signed by the chief executives of Deutsche Telekom, KPN, Orange, Portugal Telecom, Proximus, Swisscom, Telefónica, Telekom Austria, Telecom Italia, Telenor and TeliaSonera and was sent to Tusk plus the heads of all 28 member states.

While 'leading investors' have identified regulation as the most important driver, the EU is "facing the harshest regulation in the world", the letter said. Urgent reforms are needed to remove these regulatory barriers to investment, it said.

The telcos ask the council to support "a profound and sustainable overhaul of the current telecoms rules, providing for a future proof common framework for all digital services, taking into account dramatic changes in markets, consumers’ habits and new positions of market power in the digital economy".

The letter also requested fast reforms in access regulation, spectrum management and "asymmetries between traditional e-communication providers and internet players", along with reduced regulation to boost investment in high-speed networks.

The rules included in the European Commission's digital single market strategy must not harm innovation and investment, the letter said.

"We believe that both the European Institutions and the European industry share an underlying common objective: to give Europe the best growth opportunities, by supporting European citizens and businesses with smart services and powerful digital infrastructures. The digital single market strategy represents an opportunity that we should embrace together," it said.

Telecoms regulation expert Diane Mullenex of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind out-Law.com said: "It is not surprising that the major European telecom operators are now voicing their concerns. The Commission needs to focus on the deployment of high-capacity and leading-edge networks operating ubiquitously."

"The ex-ante regulations and the EU framework are now more complex than ever and ill-suited to solve in an efficient manner the most important issues impacting the consumers and the business. The debate around the telecom single market proposal and the digital single market proposal is not going in the right direction and one should really deal with important topics as a priority, such as spectrum national management," she said.

The Commission published its digital strategy (20-page / 373KB PDF) in May and announced a range of measures aimed at boosting cross-border trade in the EU, from reforms to copyright laws and harmonisation of EU rules on contracts and consumer protection for e-commerce purchases, to plans designed to remove barriers to the use of cloud services.