It's time for Europe to become a major force in telecoms

Europe will fail to reach its 2020 connectivity targets without spectrum harmonisation, warns Dan Nica.

Dan Nica | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Dan Nica

Dan Nica (RO, S&D) is a member of Parliament’s Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence

14 Oct 2016


The digital single market must provide quality services and facilitate the daily life of European consumers, encourage innovation and create new opportunities for citizens and businesses. 

In order to have a truly integrated digital market and to make progress in the digital field, investments are needed in infrastructures and in fast and very fast communication networks, including in rural and remote areas.

Electronic communication and its networks have evolved and need to address and confront new challenges, such as feasible and wider coverage, new players on the market and 5G.


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If the EU really wants to be a leading force in the digital sector, urgent action is needed in terms of investing in communication infrastructures and networks, efficient allocation and management of spectrum, ultrafast broadband access, high standards of data protection and security of international data transfers, eliminating geo-blocking and improving consumer access to content. 

Basic broadband access should be considered a universal service; everyone should have access to basic internet and voice communications at an affordable price.

Even if member states are reluctant to further harmonise spectrum, combined with the application of common principles for spectrum usage rights in the European Union, this would solve the problem of the lack of predictability in terms of spectrum availability. This would also allow innovative use of wireless broadband, while protecting broadcasting time and preventing interference.

Unfortunately, according to the Commission's data on high-speed broadband, only a small part of European households have subscriptions above 100Mb per second. 

I recall that the digital agenda objectives are 30 Mbps for all EU citizens and for at least 50 per cent of European households to have internet connections above 100 Mbps by 2020. As we are nowhere near these objectives, how can we ensure all our citizens are connected wherever they live, so that we have a true digital society?

The connectivity package adopted by the Commission on 14 September is headed in the right direction. 

The package has five legislative and non-legislative proposals: a new European electronic communications code, merging four existing telecoms directives (framework, authorisation, access and universal service directive; a regulation to support local communities in providing free public WiFi to their citizens; a regulation on BEREC; a proposal on non-binding connectivity targets for a competitive digital single market by 2025; and an action plan to deploy 5G in the EU.

By 2025 all schools, transport hubs and main providers of public services, as well as digitally intensive enterprises, should have access to internet connections with download/ upload speeds of one Gigabit of data per second. In addition, all European households, rural or urban, should have access to networks offering a download speed of at least 100 Mb per second, which can be upgraded to one Gigabit. 

Also, all urban areas, as well as major roads and railways, should have uninterrupted 5G wireless broadband coverage, starting with fully-fledged commercial service in at least one major city in each EU member state by 2020, according to the Commission. This is something I fully support, although Europe is running falling behind in achieving these connectivity targets.

The Commission estimates that the price for 12-30 Mbps broadband has dropped by 57 per cent since 2007 and that new services and features will be possible once EU targets are met and very high capacity networks are widely available.

€120m will be reallocated for 2017-2019 (within the connecting Europe facility regulation) in order to support local communities in providing free public WiFi to citizens. Approximately 40 to 50 million WiFi connections per day can take place thanks to the initiative.

The telecoms sector and services as we know them are changing and taking up new challenges. If Europe wants to be a force in telecoms, we need clear competences for a European single regulator, with rules and tariffs for all. 

New applications like WhatsApp, Skype or Viber should follow rules to guarantee security in communications, just as older players do - both for the sake of competition and for consumer protection.

 

Read the most recent articles written by Dan Nica - Maximising the benefits and minimising the risks of Artificial Intelligence

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