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EU Council ready to talk with Parliament on new telecom code

Thursday 12 October 2017 | 15:55 CET | News

The European Council has granted the Estonian presidency a general mandate to begin negotiations with the European Parliament on the proposed Electronic Communications Code. The mandate widens the scope of electronic communications services to take account of the growing importance of OTT services including VoIP, messaging apps and email. It comes after the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) approved an updated version of the Code including a price cap on long-distance EU calls.

The Council added that an initial exploratory 'trilogue' meeting with the European Parliament is expected to take place by the end of October if the Parliament confirms at its next plenary session that this is possible. "I am pleased that the Estonian presidency has obtained this first mandate earlier than we expected. We will now make every effort to achieve solid progress in talks with the Parliament by the end of the year,” said Urve Palo, Estonia's Minister for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology. 

New regulatory tools

As expected, the Council's position differs from the original proposal from the European Commission. Several countries lobbied for additional regulatory tools to combat so-called oligopolistic markets, where two large operators dominate.

The Dutch government said it argued for the ability for regulators to impose network access obligations on operators without having to prove significant market power. This is based on the principle that alternative operators cannot replicate the network elements and should have access in order to support competition. The Council agreed to allow member states to grant this power to national regulators, but they are not required to employ such tools. However, it's uncertain whether the Parliament and Commission will support such a stance. 

The Council member also rejected a proposal requiring any new tasks to be solely with an independent regulatory authority. They want to maintain the current situation, where ministries and governments set policy, and not the regulators. 

Regulations extended to OTT providers

The member states supported the Commission's proposal to extend consumer protection rules to OTT providers of interpersonal communication services, such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. However, there was some discussion about whether all such rules need to be harmonised across the EU. Some countries fear their tough regulation may be diluted by EU-level rules. 

Spectrum coordination

The Commission's proposal for much greater harmonisation of spectrum licensing across the EU received less support from the Council representatiaves. Many member states want to hold on to control of spectrum auctions and releases, in order to pursue national goals. 

However, the states did agree to a consultation system, where auction proposals will be opened to comment from other member states in an effort to increase consistency and coordination. Other areas of harmonsation will include targets for the release of scarce spectrum, coordinating the timetable for release of mobile broadband frequencies and elimination of obstacles to spectrum leasing and transfers. 



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