Affordable communications for businesses and consumers

The concept of ICTs covers a broad spectrum of technologies, ranging from information technology (IT) through telecommunications, broadcast media, and all types of audio and video processing and transmission to network-based control and monitoring functions. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and data and internet access services have taken the place of traditional telephone services as the key products for both consumers and businesses. Although linear broadcasting continues to be the principal medium of information distribution and entertainment in Europe, more and more audiovisual content is available on demand and 4G and 5G internet connectivity is subject to exponential growth. As a consequence, the EU has set up a regulatory framework for telecommunications covering fixed and wireless telecoms, internet, broadcasting and transmission services, through a series of rules which apply throughout the EU Member States.

Legal basis

Since the Treaties did not provide for any direct powers in the field of electronic communications networks and services, jurisdiction over electronic communications has instead been drawn from various articles within the TFEU in order to create policies for electronic communications. This is a necessity arising from the complex nature of media goods and services, which can be defined neither solely as cultural goods nor simply as economic goods. The EU may consequently take relevant actions within the framework of sectoral and horizontal policies, such as: industrial policy (Article 173 TFEU); competition policy (Articles 101-109 TFEU); trade policy (Articles 206 and 207 TFEU); the trans-European networks (TENs) (Articles 170-172 TFEU); research and technological development and space (Articles 179-190 TFEU); the approximation of laws for technological harmonisation, or the use of similar technological standards (Article 114 TFEU); the free movement of goods (Articles 28, 30 and 34-35 TFEU); the free movement of people, services and capital (Articles 45-66 TFEU); education, vocational training, youth and sport (Articles 165 and 166 TFEU); and culture (Article 167 TFEU).

Objectives

Following up on the Lisbon Strategy, the Digital Agenda for Europe[1] (DAE) was conceived as one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 strategy adopted by the Commission. Published in May 2010, it sets out to define the key enabling role that the use of ICTs will have to play if Europe wants to succeed in its ambitions for 2020. The Europe 2020 strategy underlined the importance of broadband deployment in order to provide affordable communications to businesses and consumers. The current regulatory framework for the electronic communications network and for services is therefore built on three main objectives: encouraging competition, improving the functioning of the market and guaranteeing basic user rights. By encouraging competition, the overall goal is for European consumers to be able to benefit from greater choice thanks to low prices, high quality and innovative services. The rules are simple, flexible, and technology-neutral and aimed at deregulation in the longer term.

Achievements

The current regulatory framework for telecommunications, made up of a package of Directives and Regulations, was launched on September 2016 to take into account the rapid development of the sector and to harmonise rules on both the substance of regulating electronic communications networks and services, and the procedures needed for its implementation.

  • On 14 September 2016, in its communication on ‘Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market – Towards a European Gigabit Society’, the Commission proposed, for Parliament and the Council to examine, revising existing targets and pieces of legislation on electronic telecommunications.
  • Lower prices for electronic communications[2]by ending roaming charges for data, calls and SMS when travelling in the EU or internationally[3]; since June 2017, with ‘Roam Like At Home’ and by offering free Wi-Fi in hotspots to their citizens and visitors in public spaces everywhere in Europe through WiFi4EU;[4]
  • Better protection for consumers and businesses, by adopting legislation on privacy (Directive 2009/136/EC[5]) and data protection (Directive 95/46/EC[6]), further improved by the new regulatory framework on data protection (Regulation (EU) 2016/679[7] and Directive (EU) 2016/680[8]); by strengthening the mandate of the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA)[9]; by adopting Directive (EU) 2016/1148 concerning measures to ensure a high common level of network and information security across the Union[10]; by strengthening the right to change fixed-line or mobile operator within one working day while retaining one’s original phone number, i.e. number portability (Directive 2009/136/EC) and by establishing the 112 single European emergency number (Directive 2009/136/EC), the 116000 missing children helpline, the 116111 child helpline, and the 116123 emotional support helpline and an online platform for dispute resolution between consumers and online traders[11];
  • Better access to telecommunications, by including legislation to stimulate competition with clear and inclusive rules, better quality, better prices, and more services (The European Electronic Communications Code); by investing in broadband networks supporting high-speed Internet; by supporting wireless technologies, such as 3G and LTE, through the radio spectrum policy programme , and by harmonising the use of the 470-790 MHz frequency band in the Union to create a gigabit connectivity for all main socio-economic drivers[12].

In order to improve the consistency of national regulatory procedures for telecommunications, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) (see Regulation (EC) No 1211/2009[13]) provides for cooperation between national regulators and the Commission, promoting best practice and common approaches, while at the same time avoiding inconsistent regulation that could risk distorting competition in the single market in telecommunications. This updated legislation charges the National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) with the task of promoting competition in the provision of electronic communications networks and services, as well as setting out the principles underpinning their operations: independence, impartiality and transparency, and right of appeal. As regards spectrum management, the multiannual radio spectrum policy programme sets out policy directions and objectives for the strategic planning and harmonisation of the radio spectrum, in order to ensure that the internal market functions in Union policy areas involving spectrum use, such as electronic communications, research, technological development and space, transport, energy, and audiovisual policies.

Role of the European Parliament

Parliament advocates a robust and advanced ICT policy and has been very active in the adoption of legislative acts in the area in order to increase benefits for consumers and businesses. It has therefore continuously helped to keep the focus on ICT issues, through own-initiative reports, oral and written questions, studies[14], workshops[15], opinions and resolutions, as well as through calls for greater coordination of national efforts for the development of pan-European services and EU support for telecommunications.

Parliament has recalled the need to use the ‘digital dividend’ spectrum to achieve broadband for all EU citizens, and has stressed that further action is needed to ensure ubiquitous and high-speed access to broadband, as well as digital literacy and competences for all citizens and consumers[16]. It likewise stresses the importance of security in cyberspace[17] in order to ensure robust protection for privacy and civil liberties for consumers and businesses in a digital environment. At the same time Parliament strongly promotes technological neutrality, ‘net neutrality’ and ‘net freedoms’ for European citizens, as well as measures regarding access to or use of services and applications through telecommunications networks, on the basis of respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens; such measures must also ensure that internet service providers do not degrade users’ ability to access content and applications and/or run services of their own choice[18].

Parliament is systematically consolidating these guarantees through legislation. It is at the forefront in removing obstacles within the Digital Single Market and modernising EU telecoms rules to today’s digital and data-driven products and services to increase digital benefits for consumers and businesses[19]. Parliament has therefore improved data access and transfer for all by setting network neutrality standards, harmonising the use of the 470-790 MHz frequency band, supporting free Wi-Fi connections for all in towns and villages (Wifi4EU), investing in high-performance computing and science cloud services (European Open Science Cloud) and ending roaming tariffs, as illustrated by ‘Roam Like At Home’[20]. Parliament has initiated and completed important legislative work to boost e-commerce for consumers and businesses in the EU, especially for SMEs, on the Directive on measures to reduce the cost of deploying high-speed electronic communications networks[21] and the Regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market[22] to facilitate electronic businesses.[23] Following the Commission’s proposals, Parliament supports modernised copyright rules and the updating of European audiovisual media services rules.

Furthermore, Parliament successfully finalised the legislative work on reforming data protection. On 27 April 2016, Directive (EU) 2016/680[24] was adopted to guarantee an effective application of the protection of natural persons in relation to the processing of personal data as a fundamental right. Moreover, the EP and the Council have adopted Regulation (EU) 2016/679[25] on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of data and on the free movement of personal data. Recently, Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) voted in favour of the rules on the respect for private life and the protection of personal data in electronic communications to facilitate business[26]. Parliament is currently doing extensive legislative work on the proposals presented as a follow-up to the DSM Strategy and the resolution ‘Towards a Digital Single Market Act’[27], by addressing such issues as unjustified geo-blocking[28] , cross-border parcel delivery[29], cross-border portability of online content services[30], a revision of the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation[31], audiovisual media services[32], free flow of non-personal data[33], contracts for the online and other distance sales of goods[34], and contracts for the supply of digital content[35]. The Parliament recently adopted a resolution on internet connectivity for growth, competitiveness and cohesion: European gigabit society and 5G[36] to promote the timetable for 5G deployment to facilitate connectivity for consumers and businesses.

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/

[2]Regulation (EU) No 531/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 June 2012 on roaming on public mobile communications networks within the Union,, OJ L 172, 30.6.2012, p. 10. EU law has helped the prices of telecoms services to fall by around 30% in the past decade.

[3]Joint statement issued by the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission on 14 June 2017. Available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-17-1590_en.htm

[4]Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulations (EU) No 1316/2013 and (EU) No 283/2014 as regards the promotion of Internet connectivity in local communities (COM(2016)0589).

[5]OJ L 337, 18.12.2009, p. 11.

[6]OJ L 281, 23.11.1995, p. 31.

[7]OJ L 119, 4.5.2016, p. 1.

[8]http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2016:119:FULL&from=EN

[9]Established under Regulation (EC) No 460/2004, OJ L 77, 13.3.2004, p. 1; European Parliament legislative resolution of 16 April 2013 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), OJ C 45, 5.2.2016, p. 102.

[10]Directive (EU) 2016/1148 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2016 concerning measures for a high common level of security of network and information systems across the Union, OJ L 194, 19.7.2016, p. 1.

[11]The platform is accessible at: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/odr/ and additional information may be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/solving_consumer_disputes/non-judicial_redress/adr-odr/index_en.htm

[12]Decision (EU) 2017/899: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32017D0899

[13]Regulation (EC) No 1211/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009 establishing the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and the Office, OJ L 337, 18.12.2009, p. 1.

[14] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/0083c7a4db/Think-Tank.html#studies

[15] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/events.html?id=workshops#documents

[16]OJ C 81 E, 15.3.2011, p. 45.

[17]OJ C 332 E, 15.11.2013, p. 22.

[18]OJ C 153 E, 31.5.2013, p. 128.

[19]http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-5_en.htm

[20]Regulation (EU) 2015/2120, OJ L 310, 26.11.2015, p. 1.

[21]Directive 2014/61/EU, OJ L 155, 23.5.2014, p. 1.

[22]Regulation (EU) No 910/2014, OJ L 257, 28.8.2014, p. 73.

[23] COM(2017) 0228.

[24]Directive (EU) 2016/680, OJ L 119, 4.5.2016, p. 89.

[25]Regulation (EU) 2016/679, OJ L 119, 4.5.2016, p. 1.

[26] COM(2017) 0010.

[27]European Parliament resolution of 19 January 2016 on Towards a Digital Single Market Act, Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0009.

[28] COM(2016) 0289.

[29] COM(2016) 0285.

[30] COM (2015) 0627.

[31] COM(2016) 0283.

[32] COM(2016) 0287.

[33] COM(2017) 0495.

[34] COM(2015) 0635.

[35] COM(2015) 0634.

[36]European Parliament resolution of 1 June 2017 on internet connectivity for growth, competitiveness and cohesion: European gigabit society and 5G, Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0234.

Mariusz Maciejewski / Lucile Fleuret / Frédéric Gouardères

11/2017