The European Parliament has been debating EU telecoms reform proposals ahead of a vote later this month that could usher in an era of fibre broadband for European citizens and mandatory data-breach reporting for the continent's operators.
The European Commission first proposed reforming the EU telecoms rules, which have been in place since 2003, in November last year with a view to reinforcing competition and investment as well as creating a single telecoms market to encourage innovative cross-border services.
As part of the mooted reforms, a number of important changes that could affect end users are being debated — including quicker mobile-number porting; easier-to-understand tariffs and pricing; better data protection; and mandatory notification of security breaches. The Commission believes telecoms operators should be obliged to inform their customers without delay whenever their personal data has been compromised, to boost consumer trust in the security of comms services.
As well as improved security, the reforms are also seeking to overcome the hindrances to wider uptake of fibre broadband in Europe.
In a speech to the European Parliament this week, Viviane Reding, the Commission's telecoms commissioner, said: "I applaud the Parliament's moves to encourage infrastructure competition on these 'next-generation access' networks by proactively promoting the sharing of the ducts that house the new fibres and encouraging risk-sharing of new facilities.
"These efforts are welcome and are in line with a recommendation that I am currently preparing, to give guidance for national regulators on these issues. But the upgrading of the choke point in the high-speed internet must not become a new and enduring bottleneck for competition in the future."
However, Reding warned that any legislation around next-generation networks will have to perform a balancing act between promoting competition and securing the necessary investment in fibre.
"We have plenty of evidence that the transition to fibre will make the business case for alternative investors much more difficult," she continued.
"Unbundling of fibre is currently neither technically nor economically possible, which means that alternative operators must invest in their own fibre or use a bitstream service of the incumbent… In the many geographic zones where infrastructure competition proves not to be feasible, appropriate regulation will continue to be the only way to keep competition alive."
According to the Commission, the most important reform proposals still under discussion between the European Parliament and the European Council include spectrum management; investment in next-generation telecoms networks; and strengthening the independence of national telecoms regulators.
The Commission hopes more efficient and consistent management of spectrum will boost wireless innovation and could achieve high-speed "broadband for all" internet access in Europe. It is also keen on co-ordinating the EU's approach to spectrum freed up by the switchover from analogue to digital TV.
Reding said: "We have to ensure that when member states manage their national spectrum, which is a very precious resource, they realise social and economic benefits because their management is efficient, transparent and flexible and because there is a better co-ordination at EU level."
Following the European Parliament's first reading of the EU Telecoms reform proposals on 23 September, the European Council of Telecoms Ministers will then discuss the proposals on 27 November.
The Commission believes a political agreement on the final legislative texts could be achieved by the end of the year, with a new regulatory framework potentially becoming law in all 27 EU Member States by 2010.