EU Sets Out New Rules to Boost Mobile, Broadband and Internet Services - ISPreview UK
After somewhat of a change in management the European Commission has today moved to adopt the final design for a Digital Single Market strategy across the EU, which among other things aims to foster online trade, harmonise radio spectrum for mobile services and create better incentives for investment in high-speed broadband.

The commission claims that a “fully functionalDigital Single Market could contribute £306 billion (€415bn) per year to the European economy and create thousands of new jobs, which it will achieve by removing barriers to cross-border consumer trade and making it easier or more attractive to build faster broadband and mobile networks.

Jean-Claude Juncker, EC President, said:

Today, we lay the groundwork for Europe’s digital future. I want to see pan-continental telecoms networks, digital services that cross borders and a wave of innovative European start-ups. I want to see every consumer getting the best deals and every business accessing the widest market – wherever they are in Europe. Exactly a year ago, I promised to make a fully Digital Single Market one of my top priorities. Today, we are making good on that promise. The 16 steps of our Digital Single Market Strategy will help make the Single Market fit for a digital age.”
But the devil will be in the detail and right now there are a lot of general commitments, albeit not much in the way of solid final details. Some of the key telecoms measures also have yet to gain full approval from member states. We’re further concerned that releasing all of this strategy together could create somewhat of an information overload for its readers.

Indeed the strategy also encompasses aspects like the Single Telecoms Market for, among other things, cheaper mobile roaming and protection of Net Neutrality, which is complicated enough without needing to be lumped in with a mass of other policy.

Otherwise some of the highlights have been simplified as follows, starting with the fixed broadband and mobile related aspects.!NJ74cm

Highlights of the Digital Single Market Strategy

  • Provide “clear and harmonized rules” for net neutrality (there’s not much detail on this).
  • Set in motion the “final elimination of roaming surcharges“, in particular for data (mobile broadband) services.
  • Harmonised framework for the management of radio spectrum, including a coordinated release of the 700MHz band for mobile broadband services (this is good for better and cheaper coverage).
  • Deploy “simpler and more proportionate regulation” in areas where fixed-line infrastructure competition has emerged at regional or national scale, while also creating other incentives for investment into the building of “very high capacity” broadband networks and helping to reach the most inaccessible (remote rural) areas. A review of the Universal Service Directive (USD) will also take place.
  • Making it easier to buy and sell goods or services across EU borders, such as in terms of more flexible copyright licensing (e.g. it might become easier for services like Netflix to stream films or music from other EU states) and, in relation to this, harmonising EU rules for contracts and consumer protection.
  • The removal of “unjustified” geo-blocking, such as when websites deny consumers access based on their location or re-route them to a local store with different prices.
  • Combatting illegal content on the Internet. The Commission will analyse the need for new measures to tackle “illegal content“, with due regard to their impact on the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information. It will explore “rigorous procedures” for removing illegal content, while avoiding the take down of legal content, and whether to require intermediaries (e.g. ISPs) to exercise “greater responsibility and due diligence in the way they manage their networks and systems – a duty of care“. The Commission will launch an assessment of this before the end of 2015.
  • The Commission will review the e-Privacy Directive to tackle concerns about the handling of personal data, particularly with regards to how some companies use and collect such data while online.
  • Propose a ‘European free flow of data initiative’ to promote the free movement of data in the EU. Sometimes new services are hampered by restrictions on where data is located or on data access, restrictions which often do not have anything to do with protecting personal data.

The full document contains more information, although as we say it’s still lacking in a lot of detail and elaboration. Some of the proposals also read like double-edged swords, such as the suggestion that ISPs should perhaps forget being “mere conduits” and start taking more responsibility for “illegal content” that passes over their networks.

Mind you it’s never quite clear whether “illegal” means serious child abuse/criminal content or also copyright material (many UK ISPs already work very hard to block the truly illegal stuff). Similarly do the commission mean Internet content or Internet access providers when they say “intermediaries“? Each requires a very different approach. Ultimately ISPs would make for a terrible police force and we need to be careful about how far this goes.

Equally we have to be cautious about the moves to update the existing privacy rules, not least because of the disastrous waste of time that was Europe’s silly anti-cookie law (i.e. small files that websites ask your browser to store, such as for login sessions or statistics). Somebody spent a lot of time and money on that to produce a law that simply resulted in a lot of useless pop-up spam on millions of perfectly legal websites.

Elsewhere it’s previously been suggested by the EC that one way in which better broadband could be fostered, especially in rural areas, is by allowing some operators to offer longer contract terms to consumers (Ofcom’s current limit is 24 months) or through support for closed networks (at present ISPs that use state aid must offer open access to other ISPs).

The rules for building new broadband networks in both urban and rural could also be made more flexible, although this will need to be handled with care so as not to give incumbents even more flexibility to overbuild rivals.

Suffice to say that there’s a lot of information in today’s announcement and the EC anticipates that their strategy will be achieved by the end of 2016, although there are still plenty of areas that individual member states could obstruct (e.g. the opposition to free mobile roaming and net neutrality).

The Digital Single Market will be on the agenda for the next European Council meeting on 25-26th June 2015.