EU digital commissioner's telecoms plan repeats old priorities

Kroes' 10-point telecoms and broadband plan breaks no new ground

Europe's Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes on Wednesday unveiled what she called a new 10-point plan for telecoms and broadband, but the points are familiar.

The plan highlights existing mechanisms: state aid, the Connecting Europe Facility, the radio-spectrum policy program and the telecoms package were all given the green light last year.

But Kroes said in a speech on Wednesday that although frameworks may be in place, more work must be done in delivering on them.

"I'm in a fighting mood, and Europe can't wait. If the last three years have shown me anything, it's that broadband is essential to our future. That's not something I can let go of. We must deliver that investment," she said.

With regard to the European single market, Kroes said, "quite simply: the more consistent the rules, the fewer the obstacles. If you're looking to invest, you face many barriers: time-consuming planning rules; divergent network access prices and products; unavailable spectrum, or whatever. The solutions need to be just as varied. We need a strategic vision, and a program of pragmatic actions: detailed, technical, thought through."

Last July the Commissioner set out a broadband package with strict rules on network access. Kroes said her department was still consulting with BEREC (the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) and hoped to publish a detailed draft recommendation by July.

A new wireless action plan, due in early spring, will aim to make spectrum both available and assigned without excess duplication. Kroes added that the Commission would use sanctions if European Union member states fail to free up spectrum for wireless broadband under existing rules.

In the coming weeks, the Commission is also due to publish a study on Internet speeds, guidance on net neutrality, a green paper on Connected TV, a new recommendation on universal service in a digital society and the long-awaited Cyber Security Strategy -- drafts of which have already provoked widespread criticism. A public consultation on modernizing copyright for the digital age is also scheduled.

Kroes did point to concrete examples where better organization could stimulate broadband rollout. "I want to cut project costs. And much of that cost simply comes from civil engineering and that's just what our proposed legislation will do. Let's make sure the thing getting in the way isn't just silly inefficiency: people digging up the road many times when they only need do it once. Complex planning rules that just make the whole project too costly," she said.

"I don't want a country-by-country approach fragmenting the single market and I don't want today's legal vacuum either. I want the E.U. to use the most effective tools at its disposal."

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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