European telecoms regulation

Europe: no continent for small and agile operators?


While the 6th of May – the day when the European Commission will deliver its well-expected “Digital Single Market” Strategy – is approaching, there is a considerable traffic jam of leaked documents anticipating the draft that will be finally and formally adopted.

Remarkably, one of the previous versions of the incoming communication explicitly referred to the contribution of “small an agile operators” to the achievement of the Single Digital Market. Surprisingly, this passage is no longer present in the current version, which has been sent within the Commission’s offices for a short internal consultation.

The previous draft was the following (pag.8):

„[…] Our overall goal is to keep our markets competitive while offering legal certainty to market players with a set of clear rules. An effective market structure would combine companies present in many or all Member States with smaller, more agile operators. […]”

Instead, the latest draft only includes following aspects (pag. 7):

[…] The Commission will present proposals in 2016 for an ambitious overhaul of the telecoms regulatory framework focusing on […] (ii) delivering the conditions for a true single market by tackling regulatory fragmentation to allow economies of scale for efficient network operators and service providers, […] (iv) incentivising investment in high speed broadband networks (including a review of broadband obligations in the context of the Universal Service Directive) and (v) an effective regulatory institutional framework. […]

Thus, small and agile operators are not relevant any longer. One should ask whether the Commission really wants to put all the eggs in the basket of big, rigid and inflexible operators

In the reality, the discrepancies between of the two drafts reveal the difficulties that the Commission shall overcome in order to find a well-balanced draft. The Commission has been strongly lobbied by these who would like to sacrifice competition in order to favor (potential) investments, and the other who believe that competition is a prerequisite for the investments themselves. The current draft does not seem unbalanced, in the sense that it reflects the different degrees of achievement of competition and broadband roll-out throughout Europe and call for adequate and coherent intervention. This said, keeping as reference to small and agile operators would have been a great signal for the European industry, since small operators and SME are a big part of it. By contrast, this opportunity seems to have been missed for the time being.

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