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May 30, 2013

European Commission Seeks a Single Digital Europe-End to Roaming and Net Neutrality on the Table

As those who live in Europe or travel it extensively are painfully aware, mobile roaming is, to say the least, problematic. But with a bit of a push from the European Commission (EC), through its vice president Neelie Kroes, all of the frustration and confusion could soon be a thing of the past. Kroes has presented a legislative package that is aimed at uniting European mobile carriers, offering a single telecom market by next year that would put an end to mobile roaming, and for the first time guarantee Net neutrality.

Kroes made a speech in which she laid out her plans for a fair, single market. And, taking advantage of technology she supported her plans with a number of statements on Twitter which you can follow at Neelie Kroes @NeelieKroesEU.

The Need to Act is Urgent

Rather than paraphrase, it is interesting to read the language of persuasion used by Kroes to push an agenda which she fervently believes is not only critical for the future economic vitality of the European community, but needs to be done sooner rather than later.

"In telecoms, of all sectors, there is no place for borders! It's called a worldwide Web for a reason! There is no other sector of our incomplete European single market where the barriers are so unneeded, and yet so high," she said. “The time for change is now. Change must come from all directions, but it starts with all of us in this room."

Speaking before a room of MEPs, and placing it in the context of her ongoing efforts to end to end the digital divide she believes is an impediment to growth and could assist in alleviating chronic unemployment in the community, she pushed for legislation to be on a fast track. “It is my belief that we can deliver such a package -- this full, final, package -- around Easter 2014. Imagine that. It will be good for Europe."

Warming to the specifics, Kroes noted that while Europe has already seen a decrease in its excessively high roaming charges, "Price caps on data mean we have roaming for the smart-phone generation. This ends the roaming rip-offs once and for all in the EU … I am delighted that year after year the European Union is putting money back in the pockets of citizens," she stated.

Mindful that this is a political issue where navigating conflicting interests on such a fast timetable could derail the efforts entirely, Kroes admitted, "I am not promising a single market package that gives you everything you dreamed of. This package will have to strike a sensitive balance if we are to agree to it quickly… I am promising to spend the next 12 months building a bridge with you to our citizens, your constituents. Whether they need it for travel, for trade, or for transactions - our people need this reform."

Part of the reference to the challenges and the need for cooperation was also a reference to the desirability of establishing a net neutrality regime across the community rather than on an ad hoc basis. Currently the Netherlands is only country that is in full support of Net neutrality, but whether the industry feels the urgency given what is at stake is an open question.

Kroes claims she has support from the "highest levels in institutions." We shall see if those institutions have the political fortitude for such sweeping reform at such a fast pace in the face of what could be strong blowback from industry, which likes its roaming charges along with the ability to use the lack of Net neutrality for competitive advantage. If nothing else this is going to be fun to watch, and as a consumer there is reason to take a strong rooting interest in the outcome.  

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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