European Union Telecommunication Single Market – #ConnectedContinent – by Paul Rübig, MEP

A few years ago a young woman from Austria, whose friend has been living in Munich, visited Brussels to inform herself about the European Union. Back at home, she had to face an enormous invoice from her telecommunications company. This was the beginning of the end of over-priced roaming tariffs in the European Union. Since then the European Parliament passed numerous regulations on telecommunication, which caused the market to change significantly. Nonetheless there is still a lot to be work on.

Europeans are very concerned with the telecommunication market in the EU. Economy and consumption habits changed over the past years. People demand faster broadband connections and better access to the internet.

Everybody wants to be “available” all the time and everywhere. This is not only important for private individuals but also for enterprises. In 2013 the Eurobarometer showed that e.g. for Austrians the biggest achievement of the EU is the subsidence of roaming tariffs, even ranked before freedom of movement and peace.

At the moment telecommunication markets are still limited to a national level and there is no European Single Market. For young companies it is difficult to enter the market and even for established ones it is difficult to expand. The current market situation harms the competitiveness and ultimately the whole economy. In order to tackle this problem, ensure freedom of movement of services and hence a greater benefit for consumers and enterprises, a harmonisation of the European Law is necessary.

Digital services and online-markets in the EU have tremendous potential of which we have not made full use yet. This particular sector of the economy is growing seven times faster than any other market. The realization of one EU common telecommunication Market will therefore give rise to opportunities for established and also for new companies, which will encourage new ideas, competition and growth. It is estimated that by harmonising regulations in the European single market over 500 million customers will emerge. The Commission forecasts that a Telecommunication single market could increase GDP by 0.9 per cent which is equivalent to EUR 110 billion.

One of the major obstacles to the internal Market of telecoms are the so called roaming tariffs charged by mobile providers when crossing the border. In 2007 the price discrepancy of mobile phone tariffs within the European Union was up to 774 per cent. There is no other product or service, which was recorded to have such a significant difference between its lowest and highest price. In the past years the European Union has successfully managed to move closer towards a common telecommunication market and expenses for calling, sending SMS and data roaming have been lowered. Since 2007, costs for Active Calls were decreased by 51% and for passive calls by 71%. In July 2013 prices for mobile downloading in any other member state fell by 25 Eurocent per Megabyte. Before this regulation the price incl. VAT accounted for EUR 0.7 whereas the new tariff is now limited to EUR 0.45. A short message must not cost more than 8 Eurocent plus VAT. Calling someone from another member state costs less than 24 Cent plus VAT. Passive calling abroad is limited to 8 Eurocent plus VAT.

For these reasons the European Commission just presented a new package to foster the integration of the single European telecom market. Measures such as simplifying rules to help companies invest more and expand across borders, EU wide and roaming-free mobile plans, protection of net neutrality and finally abolishing premiums for international phone calls within Europe, were proposed. Realising the Roaming part and abolishing the charges for received calls should be of outmost importance when negotiating this package.

Since the ICT world is evolving faster than any other sector every opportunity for further integration needs to be seized in order to succeed in global competition and every chance needs to be taken to create a single market with precise regulations and standards. Such measures are a big opportunity for the European Union and a chance to boost its competitiveness, strengthen the economy and create employment. The final negotiation of this dossier should therefore be a top priority for the European Parliament before the elections in May 2014.

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