Goals for a Gigabit EuropeSarah Shepherd
A WIK conference held last week in Brussels sought to examine the likely impact of the recently agreed EU Electronic Communications Code especially as regards the EU’s goal to be a Gigabit society with greater fibre deployment, in line with the UK’s ambition to see nationwide full fibre roll out by 2033. The Code once fully adopted will have a two year time frame before the new rules will apply across Europe.
The Code’s main objective is driving the roll out and take up of very high capacity networks. Specifically, the Commission would like to see all schools, transport hubs, and public service providers and some businesses able to access Gigabit capable speeds by 2025. Beyond this, households across Europe should be able to enjoy download speeds of 100Mbps with urban areas and major roads and railways having uninterrupted access to 5G.
As such it will bring a greater focus on infrastructure competition with an emphasis on access to civil engineering (think masts, ducts and cabinets) and opportunities for deregulation and the potential for a lighter regulatory treatment of wholesale only operators. Spectrum licenses will be granted for a minimum of 20 years and in a nod to the potential mass densification of small cells required for 5G, no undue restrictions on their deployment will be permitted alongside a general obligation to facilitate access to public properties.
Consumer provisions include new rules on provider switching (for example continuity of service following a change of ISP); grounds to terminate a bundle in its entirety if one segment falls through; and a new retail price cap on intra-EU calls and SMS’s.
It will now fall to BEREC to draft several sets of guidelines that will guide European Regulators on the specifics of the Code’s provisions such as on symmetric access, on co-investment and on the intra-EU calls and SMS. The BEREC guidelines will seek to provide a consistent application of the Code across Europe with Jeremy Godfrey, incoming chair of BEREC for 2019, questioning whether to harmonize legislation through a process or outcome-based approach. The draft work program for BEREC is under public consultation with a close date of November 7th.
Criticism of the Code focused not on the Commission’s original proposals but that – following its trajectory through the European Parliament and Council – its final form is no longer about focusing on incentivizing investment and instead now a politically motivated patchwork. Whilst the Code is less a revolution of the existing framework, and more an evolution, it is unlikely that much change will be seen initially. It is only if targets – and the goal of very high-capacity networks are missed that things might change. It was stated that in this instance – where competition was deemed to be not working – that any interventions taken should be predictable.
Indeed, predictable and balanced were the buzzwords of the conference as the two underlying requirements from a regulatory system. Balancing one view – that the demand is for connectivity everywhere rather than higher speeds in limited areas, with the other side – that the policies of Universal Service conflict with the very high capacity network goals. Balancing the political goal of a Gigabit society for all with the reality that rural coverage remains predominantly a problem across Europe (with only Denmark and the Netherlands having vaguely similar rural fiber roll out).
BEREC will now need to ensure that the Guidelines on the Code’s provisions keep central to their core the industry requirements of predictability and balance and put Europe on the right path to making Gigabit goals a reality, at a price that Europe can afford to bear.