EU Hangs Up On Fixed-Line Call Regulation Amid Mobile And Broadband Shift

Here’s an interesting sign of the times and the huge rush of mobile and broadband usage. Neelie Kroes, the outgoing VP for the European Commission overseeing communications and technology, has just announced that the EC will no longer regulate fixed-line calls, effective immediately, so that it can focus more of its attention on mobile and broadband — services that are seeing huge takeup amid the rapid decline in usage of more traditional phone services.

The two markets that have now been “liberated” are the retail market for fixed telephony and the wholesale market for fixed call origination.

And also effective immediately, the EC will made modifications to its broadband regulation, recognising that offering “virtual access products” (eg, switching phone providers with no-one physically switching the connection for you) can potentially as competitive a move as physical unbundling.

“This cuts red tape without harming competition,” Kroes said in a press conference today, but also noted that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure fair pricing and competition on newer platforms, with many places still not seeing the fast speeds and competitive pricing that is needed. “Europe is crying out for connectivity,” she said. “Every citizen is in love with their smartphone.”

Specifically, she said that the Commission will continue to put its efforts are areas like mobile roaming, net neturality and fixed and mobile broadband.

As the EC points out in a statement on the news, the changes were made to reflect the decline in usage of more traditional fixed-line telephone services — not necessarily that the regulators have succeeded in their aims to regulate those markets. In other words, the goalposts have changed.

“There has been a decrease in volume of fixed calls as customers have turned to alternative solutions, such as voice-over-IP (VoIP) and mobile calls, but also to alternative providers, like over-the-top (OTT) players,” the Commission noted. “Those customers who still use fixed telephony are now able to purchase fixed access from a number of different platforms, such as traditional telephone network, fibre or cable networks, and also from alternative operators offering broadband and voice services over unbundled local loops, so competition has been increased.”

Indeed, in many markets people have stopped using fixed-line phones altogether and have replaced them with mobile handsets. Similarly, many now opt for services like Skype instead of their home phones to make long-distance calls cheaply.

In keeping with the focus on new kinds of connectivity: the EC also today announced that it would make modifications to its broadband regulation”in order to limit regulatory burdens to what is strictly necessary for competitive broadband access and investment.”

The rapid change — made just under the wire as Kroes gets ready to move out of her post — comes by way of EU telecoms rules that lets the Commission make quick changes — a big deal in the regulatory world, where often it can take years to pass a new piece of legislation. The EC had already had a public consultation on this revision (which you can see here).

You can also see Neelie Kroes talk about this and more in her “exit interview” later this month at our TC Disrupt conference in London.

Image: Flickr