Kroes fights for single telecoms market
Commissioner Neelie Kroes brought her campaign for a single communications market to Dublin with a major speech.
She pledged that the Digital Agenda would "create a new regulatory environment for broadband" and said that she would "soon be ready to put it in place," adding, "more investments are already flowing in, meaning more broadband for more people."
The digital commissioner said that she would focus on "areas critical to a digital single market," which would be done "in spite of huge cuts to the Connecting Europe Facility." The cuts reduced funds for broadband networks from €7 billion to just €1 billion and critics said the digital agenda was "in tatters".
The commissioner did score a victory for consumers with large reductions in mobile phone roaming charges, but she points out in her speech, "Millions of Europeans use our single market to travel, trade, or transact across Europe. Citizens and businesses. Now they need the communications to match."
Kroes admitted this was very far from reality, "Telecoms operators are stuck in tiny national markets, with borders and barriers at every turn. Expanding means dealing with a tiresome patchwork of multiple systems: for licences, spectrum, numbering and more."
This, she said, was "bad news for consumers. Apart from only being able to choose from a handful of the hundreds of European providers, she said that "quality is poor" and there were high prices and a lack of innovation.
"If I phone the town next door, within our single market, that shouldn't count as a costly "international" call," she said, adding, "the mobile in your pocket should not be the last remaining reminder of our internal borders: they should have disappeared long ago."
Noting that both China and the US had hundreds of millions of customers under one set of rules, she said, "No wonder they are racing ahead of us. No wonder Europeans suffer from poorer connections and slower broadband. No wonder European players are losing out in almost every corner of the ecosystem. No wonder all the major internet players come from outside Europe, from social networks to device makers."
Kroes made a bold promise to defend net neutrality, saying, " I will ban such behaviour: it's unfair, untransparent, and anti-competitive.
"I will safeguard net neutrality in Europe: for every European, on every device, on every network," she announced.
She also vowed that "a single market also means no roaming."
Her aim she said, " want to deliver a competitive, connected continent. Where operators can smash barriers and think big. Plan, bid and invest on a large scale. Think European and compete globally. And then every European can benefit from faster networks, better services, fairer prices."
Kroes denied that she was trying to create a "EU super-regulator" or interfere with spectrum sell offs by national governments.
Passing legislation to achieve a single communication market "won't be easy but it is essential," she said.
The task is certainly difficult and it is almost impossible to achieve, even on her own doorstep.
Brussels mobile network is degenerating quickly after the regional government voted to cut the emmissions from mobile masts to 200 times less than the normal limit.
The results are already affecting communications in Brussels and are set to get considerably worse as more traffic is squeezed into less powerful transmitters. Getting a 3G signal is already much more difficult than even a couple of months ago. By the end of October, getting a signal will be harder, especially indoors.
The Brussels parliament will not consider the issue, which is causing anger and disbelief among businesses, diplomats and citizens, until after Belgian elections in 2014.
By then Neelie Kroes' term will be coming to an end, though perhaps not on the note she intended.