The only people who don’t change their minds are those in insane asylums or cemeteries, said Everett Dirksen, an American politician. 2012 was marked by a fundamental development in thinking amongst European Union leadership that was hailed by the wider telecoms sector as not only a capital market conscious move but one of anticipated stability after a decade of what one cable CEO termed a “decade of price erosion for the telecoms sector.” It may not have seemed immediately obvious why an announcement on enhancing the broadband investment environment was such a big moment.
Evidence based decision making
Vice President Neelie Kroes said, “After examining all the evidence, and given the significant competitive relationship between copper and NGA networks, we are not convinced that a phased decrease in copper prices would spur NGA investment.” The European Commissioner for all things technology continued, “We now see fibre investment progressing relatively well in some Member States where copper prices are around or above the EU average.” Cable industry execs would be quick to agree, citing the crucial element that fibre plays in the Hybrid Fibre Cable (HFC) networks that help garner the cable’s reputation for speed-based performance.
The benefits of doubt
But there must have been a healthy amount of doubt about the wider effects of price intervention. Having consulted far and wide with the very industry building Europe’s communications networks of tomorrow, Vice President Neelie Kroes finally settled on a policy solution, something that many market players would characterize as reassuring.
Markets aside (which rebounded on news of the decision), political thinking beyond the Berlaymont recognizes the need to re-assess – even recast – regulation. A thought piece put out in a personal capacity by Georg Serentschy furthers the discussion of what he calls “Regulation 2.0.” The CEO of Austrian national regulatory authority RTR and 2012 head of BEREC, the grouping of European telecom regulators, majors on what some have termed a “paradigm shift” in regulatory thinking by Commissioner Kroes.
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The creation of a new and stable broadband regulatory environment and updating the EU’s copyright framework are among a digital ‘to-do’ list adopted by the European Commission as new digital priorities for 2013-2014
The Commission has set out seven new priorities for the digital economy and society. According to the EC, the digital economy is growing at seven times the rate of the rest of the economy, but this potential is currently held back by a patchy pan-European policy framework. The priorities announced by the EC follow a comprehensive policy review and place new emphasis on the most transformative elements of the original 2010 Digital Agenda for Europe.
According to European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, 2013 will be the busiest year yet for the Digital Agenda. “My top priorities are to increase broadband investment and to maximise the digital sector’s contribution to Europe’s recovery,” she stated.
The Commission’s reports that full implementation of this updated Digital Agenda would increase European GDP by 5 per cent, or €1,500 per person, over the next eight years, by increasing investment in ICT, improving eSkills levels in the labour force, enabling public sector innovation, and reforming the framework conditions for the Internet economy. In terms of jobs, up to one million digital jobs risk going unfilled by 2015 without pan-European action while 1.2 million jobs could be created through infrastructure construction. This would rise to 3.8 million new jobs throughout the economy in the long term.
The new priorities are:
1. Create a new and stable broadband regulatory environment
More private investment is needed in high speed fixed and mobile broadband networks. The Commission’s top digital priority for 2013 is therefore finalising a new and stable broadband regulatory environment. A package of ten actions in 2013 will include Recommendations on stronger non-discriminatory network access and new costing methodology for wholesale access to broadband networks, net neutrality, universal service and mechanisms for reducing the civil engineering costs of broadband roll-out. This will build on new Broadband State Aid Guidelines and the proposed Connecting Europe Facility loans.
Cable Europe, the trade body for Europe’s broadband cable sector, has noted the European Commission’s recognition of the industry’s contribution to the progress in achieving the Digital Agenda.
The European Commission recently released a report that it commissioned to help tell the story of progress in executing Europe’s Digital Agenda. According to Cable Europe, the report – Broadband coverage in Europe in 2011: Mapping progress towards the coverage objectives of the Digital Agenda – comes as welcome further evidence to Europe’s wider connectivity marketplace that progress is being made. While cable emerges as the “most important” NGA (next-generation access coverage) service and “the biggest contributor to rural NGA ”, the report also underscores the need for Europe’s mix of technologies to work in concert to help maximise and improve broadband coverage for Europeans, says Cable Europe.
The cable industry’s contributions to achieving the Digital Agenda, previously detailed in a report by Solon, have propelled the concept of infrastructure competition as a means to ensuring that different technologies compete with one another in the marketplace thus creating greater choice, diversity and competition in pricing. Cable Europe has repeated to Commissioner Neelie Kroes that, as a competitive investor in its own networks of tomorrow, it is a signed-up agent of the Digital Agenda. The numbers in the Solon report back up the claim as 95 per cent of households in the reach of European cable networks will be able to subscribe to high speed internet services from cable in 2020. By the end of 2013 nearly all cable operators will have upgraded to DOCSIS 3.0, enabling 100-200 Mbps speeds — and higher. With DOCSIS 3.0 rolled out, 100 Mbps speeds are already becoming the standard and cable is projected to offer 51 per cent of EU households 100Mbps or more by 2013.
Some salient points in the Commission’s broadband coverage report include:
- Cable networks account for the next largest contribution to standard broadband coverage
- For fixed next-generation access (NGA) cable is the most important coverage across Europe
- DOCSIS 3 cable is the biggest contributor to rural NGA coverage (RNC)
- DOCSIS 3 services over the cable networks make a very important contribution to the availability of NGA in the study countries
- Cable networks make about the same contribution to rural coverage as WiMAX