Ecta pushes back against EU's grand unifying theory of telecoms

Lobby group Ecta claims the EU's vision for reinvigorating the telco sector is based on inaccurate assumptions that could result in harm for both competition and consumers.

Nick Wood

June 25, 2024

3 Min Read

In an official response to the Commission white paper released in February titled How to master Europe's digital infrastructure needs, Ecta said it is wrong to assume that European electronic communications markets are in a poor state, and it is wrong to consider it necessary to adopt pan-EU wholesale access remedies.

Ecta – which represents many of the smaller, challenger telco brands operating in Europe – also said the white paper fails to consider the needs and trends in the B2B market. As such, its assessment is partial and any recommendations might not benefit the entire sector, or worse, could damage European competitiveness.

The white paper reads like a wish-list of potential measures that, if taken, would usher in the EU's hallowed single telecoms market.

They include harmonised rules governing spectrum allocation and the aforementioned wholesale access remedies, among others. The EU also wants to accelerate the decommissioning of copper networks, and also wants to consider whether telcos and hyperscalers should be subject to the same regulations – the so-called level playing field.

The EU didn't propose specific legislative action, but wanted to start a conversation about how the regulatory framework can be re-shaped to boost investment levels, drive scale, and benefit the general health of the sector.

On the occasion of its publication, European Commission vice president Margrethe Vestager warned today's level of investment in networks is not sufficient to meet future demand for capacity. She also lamented the fragmentation that comes with leaving member states to administer their own telecoms markets.

The industry – which had been lobbying heavily for telco-friendly reform ahead of the white paper's publication – responded positively on the whole. ETNO was particularly effusive, cheering the EU's recognition that telecoms is a scale game, and its acknowledgement of the asymmetry of regulation between operators and big tech.

Ecta takes issue with the whole premise, arguing that the EU is well on track to meet its 2030 Digital Decade targets, which include rolling out Gigabit network coverage to everybody, and achieving a 75 percent adoption rate among enterprises of cloud, AI or big data technology.

Ecta also argues that the European telecoms market is flourishing as a result of the diversity of players, not in spite of it. Nurturing this diversity unlocks Europe's innovative potential, ensuring a robust and competitive marketplace.

"Europe excels with respect to its global peers when it comes to combining the deployment of Gigabit networks, their adoption by consumers and professional users, as well as affordability and inclusion," Ecta said.

Implementing the recommendations in the EU's white paper without at least carrying out an impact assessment threatens to undo all this good work, it warned.

"The white paper seems to support and strengthen specific former monopolist companies. This approach would have harmful effects on competition, the EU internal market and consumers' interest. It would undermine the principles enshrined in the EECC (European Electronic Communications Code)," said Luc Hindryckx, director general of Ecta. "Further market concentration would likely undermine the deployment of very high-capacity infrastructure and the availability of affordable offers for European consumers, businesses and public administrations. Ultimately, this will be detrimental to Europe's global competitiveness."

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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