Neelie Kroes outlines proposals to boost next-gen broadband competition and investment

By Peter Gothard
13 Jul 2012 View Comments
European digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes

European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes has published a set of proposals aimed at strengthening competition among Europe's broadband providers.

Kroes said regulations need to be introduced to "ensure that Europe finds its place as a connected, competitive continent, in particular through investment in high-speed, next-generation access broadband networks".

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Despite the European Commission allowing Vodafone to acquire Cable & Wireless only days ago, Kroes' proposals call for a levelling of the playing field in competition, more help for smaller suppliers to join the market without "one hand tied behind their backs", and measures to prevent encumbents from choosing their own retail arm over others.

However, Kroes also makes the point that too high a degree of intervention could "constrain flexibility", reducing the range and quality of services on offer.

The EC is not looking to pick winners, said Kroes.

"'Technology neutrality' is just another way of saying that we cannot predict with any certainty what the best technological solutions will be, nor how they will compete and interact," she said.

"Incremental solutions may help to address weak demand in the short term. For example, new technology combining fibre and copper, or upgrading TV cable, can be very cost-effective in delivering higher download capacity."

Building trust with commercial investors and operators is another essential step, Kroes said.

"Consistency across the single market is... a vital part of the equation. Our approach should be maintained over time, consistent and reliable for the long term – but it also needs to be sufficiently flexible to adapt to changing circumstances."

Kroes said she planned to back up her proposals with separate recommendations on non-discrimination and cost methodology. Additional measures, Kroes said, might include public support via state aid, "tipping the balance" to help providers compete, as well as general measures to reduce the costs of next-generation broadband and 4G rollout.

Finally, Kroes called for the creation of a "vibrant digital single market for online content, new services and applications" to fuel demand for next-generation internet service providers of all sizes.

Kroes said she would expect her proposals to apply "at least until 2020".

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