EC pushes for single telecoms market

A lack of competition is holding back lower prices and the roll-out of new telecoms services, the European Commission has warned
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor on

The lack of regulatory consistency across Europe means that businesses and consumers are paying higher prices than necessary and new telecoms services are being held back, the European Commission has warned.

On Tuesday, the Commission released the fifteenth version of its annual report on progress in the EU electronic communications market. It found that telecoms regulation across the region remains nationally focused, with regulators often procrastinating over the introduction of EU laws.

Because of this, the key to growth in the telecoms market, particularly for the creation of next-generation broadband networks, lies in consistent enforcement of legislation across Europe, according to the report.

"Rapid growth of mobile broadband and more affordable internet access are good news for consumers in these tough economic times. Yet the limited progress towards a true single market is disappointing. Member states need to do more to ensure telecoms rules are properly implemented and the necessary investments in innovative services made," Neelie Kroes, the EU's digital agenda commissioner, said in a statement on the report.

As for the UK, the report found that fewer than 20 percent of lines offer a broadband service of over 10Mbps. This compares with an average of 23.2 percent across the EU. However, the proportion of broadband lines offering between 2Mbps and 10Mbps was above the EU average.

The adoption of fixed broadband is still rising in the UK and stood at 29.8 per cent of homes in January, according to the EC report. Mobile broadband usage rose to 6.65 per cent, well behind the European leaders of Finland, Portugal, Austria and Sweden.

In 2009, for the first time, UK citizens used their mobile phones more than their fixed-line phones, the Commission noted. In addition, they reduced their expenditure on telecoms services as a whole. Against this background, consumer prices for telecoms services fell in the UK.

Earlier in May, Kroes launched the Commission's Digital Agenda strategy for stimulating information and communications technology (ICT) activity across Europe. In a speech promoting the strategy in Amsterdam on Tuesday, Kroes said this activity was one of the key factors necessary for economic growth.

"The [financial] crisis has wiped out years of economic and social progress. It has exposed the structural weaknesses in Europe's economy," she said. "Without proper use of ICTs over the next decade Europe will become a broken economy: it could unravel into a series of broken societies."

In the speech, Kroes emphasised that Europe is the world's biggest broadband market, but said it lagged major economies such as the US on information and communications technology. "This will not change so long as our broadband is 100 times slower than in some Asian countries," she warned.

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