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EU: Telecoms Council

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 4 December 2008

Statement

Further to the Written Statement concerning the positions I intended to take at the Telecommunications Council, held on 27 November 2008, I am pleased to be able to report back on the main conclusions and topics of discussion.

The Telecommunications Council took place on the 27 November 2008 under the chair of the French presidency. I represented the United Kingdom. As expected, the review of the EU regulatory framework from electronic communications networks and services was the focus of much of the discussion.

After introduction by the presidency, Commissioner Reding gave a presentation of the commission’s views. While praising the presidency for its efforts she criticised the council text as making very little progress from earlier drafts and therefore she noted that the commission could not agree to it. Of particular concern, she felt that the proposals on spectrum and on commissioner powers did not go far enough. Following this, there was a full round exchange of views. The majority of member states endorsed the text that had been put forward by the presidency, although concerns on certain aspects were noted by Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland.

In my intervention I agreed with the compromise text for the citizens directive and the European Telecoms Authority. However, I opposed, in line with Sweden, the text that was being put forward on the better regulation directive, expressing particular concern with the proposals for functional separation, NGA access and the inclusion of references to ITU radio regulations in the proposals on spectrum.

As a result of the commission's opposition, for this item to achieve political agreement member states had to give the proposal unanimous support. I was thus able, along with Sweden, to use this leverage to secure improvements to the text on functional separation and on access to networks. A break from the formal proceedings allowed detailed negotiations to take place, bilaterally between the attendees, to develop compromise text that everyone could live with. It was not, though, possible to reach agreement on the text associated with the ITU radio regulations.

In a second table round the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands abstained on the better regulation directive, and I (with Sweden) subsequently released a declaration explaining that on a number of issues, including the ITU radio regulations issue, we would be looking for further improvements to the package. As a result, even with the commission having expressed a negative opinion, the framework review package did gain political agreement by the council.

The lunch discussion concentrated on the digital dividend and on how member states were planning to allocate spectrum following the switchover to digital TV. During an interesting discussion, which both touched on member states experiences and the benefits of further co-ordination between countries, I took the opportunity of outlining our own plans, highlighting how we anticipated further opportunities for innovative wireless services to be introduced.

Following lunch, council resumed with discussion on amending the regulations on roaming on public telephone networks. Commissioner Reding was pleased that previous councils had given broad agreement to this item, though it was recognised that some states may wish to go further, especially in terms of data regulation, than the commission had proposed. In the exchange of views that followed there was majority support for the proposal, though with a few member states expressing concern on the effect on investment and innovation it may have. I supported the amendment, saying that in essence the need for regulation represented a failure of responsible pricing by operators. However, I said that this measure should be short term in nature and that there was no case for long-term retail price controls.

The next item discussed was the second periodic review of the scope of universal services. This opened with the commission presentation giving some statistics for broadband penetration and stressing the need for funding of universal services to be transparent and made within an appropriate framework.

Member states gave an overview of their own experiences on this issue. There was some concern expressed over possible market distortions being created and difficulties associated with trying to implement a unified approach in a diverse set of markets; however, there was general support for the proposal that a debate on broadband as a universal service should take place. I stressed the importance of this topic and that as we move from narrow band to broadband we should get away from the stress on obligations and instead concentrate on universality. The major problem tends to be one of uptake of services rather than supply. I thus stressed the need to communicate the potential of broadband to the public. It will also, I stressed, be necessary for Europe to consider content provision and how content providers can utilise the internet for profit.

The commission concluded this item by summarising that the market alone will not be able to bring broadband to all consumers. Discussions on how this can be achieved will need to continue.

The final substantive item on the agenda concerned the council conclusions on future networks and the internet. This opened with an introduction delivered by the presidency. Very few comments were made by member states and the conclusions were adopted unanimously with two small amendments, relating to IPV6 made by Poland.

No issues of substance were raised by attendees under “Any other business”.