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The telecoms single market– time to refocus on real cross-border bottlenecks


26 Jun 2013



Brussels, 26 June 2013: Key players and regulators of the telecoms sector met yesterday under the auspices of ECTA to discuss the challenges of building a truly single market for telecoms in the EU.

With a high level panel of speakers, including Vice-President Neelie Kroes, the ECTA Conference addressed pressing issues related to the telecoms single market initiative, including broadband investments, business strategies, the review of the list of relevant markets and the need for a harmonised spectrum policy. More details on the conference programme can be found here.

As the European Commission 2013 Digital Agenda Scoreboard shows, competitors are in the driver’s seat when it comes to deploying ultra-fast Next Generation broadband networks (NGA). Yet take-up remains rather low, showing that more needs to be done in order to ensure competition on NGA. The implementation of a truly single market for telecoms must first and foremost focus on ensuring that vibrant competition is nurtured and that the true barriers to the EU telecoms single market are addressed, with business services remaining a key area for action. A vigorous implementation of the EU regulatory framework is thus needed. 

Tom Ruhan, Chairman of ECTA said "This conference was a great opportunity to identify the true bottlenecks that the telecoms single market initiative must be focusing on. We are pleased to see that the 2013 Digital Agenda Scoreboard confirmed the key role that new entrants have been playing in deploying NGA networks and contributing to the achievement of the DAE targets. But building new networks is pointless if consumers do not actually use them. Idle networks do not help citizens, do not generate growth or return on investment. The Scoreboard data clearly shows that the sector’s biggest problem is the lack of take-up due to the lack of competition. The policy debate and the telecoms single market initiative should focus on the real problem identified by the Commission’s data and not on empty claims. Our pro-competitive framework must remain at the heart of the single market discussions.”

Erzsebet Fitori, Director of ECTA said “A vibrantly competitive landscape is needed if we want to spur innovation and have challengers come up with competitive offers and prices for end users. Fit-for-purpose wholesale access products to the fast and ultra-fast broadband networks of dominant firms are needed, at reasonable prices. Only then will innovation materialise and will consumers and investors reap the benefits of the ultra-fast broadband era.”

The NGA race - competitors in the driver’s seat

The European Commission’s 2013 Digital Agenda Scoreboard, published on June 12, shows that new entrants are in the driver’s seat when it comes to deploying ultra-fast Next Generation broadband networks.  The Scoreboard highlights that new entrants (including cable companies) provide 77.5% of NGA lines although their market share in the total fixed broadband market is only 57.7%. Fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-building - the future-proof NGA networks - are essentially provided by challengers of dominant firms.1 Copper lines upgraded with VDSL are mainly used by traditional telecoms incumbents.

While investments are progressing, with 54% of EU households now having access to fast or ultra-fast internet access, take-up remains at a very low level, with only 4.2% of the EU households subscribing to fast internet access (≥30 Mbps). Ultra-fast connections above 100 Mbps see nearly no take-up in the EU, with only 2% of European homes subscribing to such connections. This indicates that the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) target on the availability of ≥30 Mbps Broadband by 2020 is likely to be achieved without any policy changes, whilst the 50% take-up target of above 100 Mbps connections will not be achieved by 2020 unless competition is vigorously promoted. The lack of vibrant competition in fast and ultra-fast broadband results in disappointing outcomes both for consumers and operators - limited innovation and lack of attractive offers (incrementally higher speeds at far too high prices) inhibiting progression in take-up.

As the 2013 Digital Agenda Scoreboard shows, there is an urgent need to unlock the benefits of a competitive high speed broadband market and to do so, the pro-competitive tools provided in the EU regulatory framework must be put to good use.

Telecoms pro-competitive regulatory framework to remain at the heart of the single market initiative

The implementation of a single market for telecoms has from the outset focused on developing competitive markets, with a harmonised set of rules having been devised to break down the old, formerly state owned telecoms monopolies. The dismantling of those monopolies is today one of Europe’s biggest success stories, with competition in the telecoms sector having enabled most European citizens to get affordable broadband and mobile services.

As before, competition remains one of the key policy objectives of the EU telecoms regulatory framework. If the considerable benefits of enhanced competition in the sector are to be maintained, any single market initiative in the telecoms sector must respect this competitive acquis and focus first and foremost on ensuring the vigorous implementation of the existing regulatory framework. And a lot needs to be done still. It is indispensable that fully equivalent wholesale access products are consistently available from dominant operators in each and every Member State at a fair price so that new entrants can continue climbing the ladder of investment, rolling out NGA networks, innovating and competing vigorously in the fast and ultra-fast broadband space.

Business communications services as a key area for action

The telecoms single market initiative should focus on those issues which constitute a genuine barrier to the single market, i.e. obstacles to providing and receiving cross-border communications services. The business segment figures first among the key areas where action is desperately needed.

Multinational corporations demand pan-European communications services from a single provider and seek seamless cross border communications solutions tailored to the needs of their businesses. Yet operators trying to provide high quality and reliable business communication solutions across several Member States end up having to patch together un-harmonised wholesale inputs of differing quality from 27 different markets, thus being unable to compete in the provision of pan-European services. Action is needed if we want to reap the economic benefits of ensuring that European businesses have more competitive and innovative communications services – benefits which can amount to almost 800 billion euros over a 15 year period. 

ECTA (the European Competitive Telecommunications Association - is the pan-European pro-competitive trade association that represents more than 100 of the leading challenger telecoms operators across Europe. For over a decade, ECTA has been supporting the regulatory and commercial interests of telecoms operators, ISPs & equipment manufacturers in pursuit of a fair regulatory environment that allows all electronic communications providers to compete on level terms. Our members have been the leading innovators in Internet services, broadband, business communications, entertainment and mobile.

Contact: Inês Nolasco, Regulatory Affairs Manager (+32 2 290 01 03 /

1 According to the FTTH Council Europe, in June 2012 alternative operators were responsible for ~72% of the roll-out of FTTH, with incumbents behind at ~22% (the FTTH Council of Europe slide presentation can be found here).





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