EC to make fibre 'recommendation'

The European Commission will issue a recommendation by the summer about how member states should roll out next-generation access

The European Commission is to issue a recommendation on how member states should go about rolling out fibre connectivity to homes and businesses.

Speaking at the Communication Management Association's (CMA) annual conference in London on Wednesday, Ken Ducatel, a member of information commissioner Viviane Reding's cabinet, said the recommendation would be issued before the summer.

"We are on the cusp of a major change in the telecoms sector, and are moving towards a communications system which will provide always-on connectivity at high speed," Ducatel told delegates. "This is going to require a very big transformation in business models in the sector and [major regulatory changes]."

Ducatel said the Commission had "concerns" about the relative rates of fibre rollout in other parts of the world — a possible reference to countries such as Japan, Korea and the US — and referred to "work [the Commission is] doing in preparation for a recommendation the Commission will make before the summer".

Although he refused to divulge the details of the Commission's thoughts on the matter, Ducatel did say the recommendation would address a preferred technical method for rolling out next-generation access (NGA). He also made it clear that the regulatory barriers to such a deployment would have to be addressed — an incumbent provider may, for example, be loath to start a major fibre rollout at this point while it is not yet clear whether it would have to open up its new fibre-access network to rival operators.

"On the one hand, we want high bandwidth, but we don't want to do that at the cost of competition," Ducatel said, suggesting that current business and regulatory models posed a potential "major economic disincentive" to smaller operators who may want to offer high-speed services to customers.

"When looking at the transition, we will be confronted with the strategies of players on the market who will try to foreclose the market and [shut out competitors]," Ducatel said, referring to such tactics as "rational". "This is a crucial moment," he added. "Decisions [made now] will determine the kind of access networks we get. We need absolute transparency from investors."

Ducatel also discussed the Commission's continuing desire to create an overarching European telecoms authority with teeth, arguing that it would benefit businesses that operate across the continent. "You as a CIO would want to create a consistent base for applications, but it is difficult to do that with different levels of reliability and resilience [across counties]," he said. "[National] regulators are part of the weak link in this competitiveness chain. Our idea with the [pan-European authority] is to get the regulators… to at least come round the table and thrash out [consistent solutions] in a closed room with a deadline."

Ducatel said the main issues that needed to be consistently addressed across Europe included next-generation access and mobile termination rates, the fees charged between mobile operators that determine how much users get charged for mobile data-roaming.

"These are important issues and, if we get them wrong, we will have a very slow transition to high-speed internet in Europe," said Ducatel, adding that a unified authority could sort such issues out quickly, thus making it easier to then "reduce regulatory intervention".

An Ofcom spokesperson told ZDNet.co.uk on Wednesday that the UK regulator had been "working very closely" with the Commission on its own approach to next-generation access regulation, and claimed that "what we are proposing in the UK is consistent at the European level".

"Any approach that Ofcom comes up with will ensure competition will continue to provide consumer benefits in a next-generation world," said Ofcom's spokesperson. "We're looking to provide a clear regulatory framework for the market to deliver very high-speed broadband [in a way that] investors in that market know what the return on their investment will be."

Ofcom is currently undertaking a consultation regarding next-generation access regulation, as is the UK government itself.

On the subject of a new "super-regulator" for European telecoms, Ofcom chief Ed Richard made a speech to a hearing at the European Parliament on Wednesday, in which he said the co-ordination of regulatory efforts to promote a single market "can be achieved readily without the need to create a new authority and in a way which is significantly less intrusive and less bureaucratic".

Richards said he would prefer proposed enhancements to the powers of the existing European Regulators Group to the creation of a new authority under the supervision of the Commission.

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