To reap the benefits of the digital single market, it’s time the EU develops a 21st-century competition policy.
Borders within the European Union don’t mean much to young Europeans today, except for one thing: the cost of surfing the web on their mobiles while abroad.
Is it realistic to expect that the internet should be enjoyed everywhere in the EU? In short, yes. To achieve this, however, Europe will need to rethink its approach to competition policy and consolidation in the mobile-telecom sector.
In the U.S., users travel through 50 states without changing their tariff plan. This should also be possible in the EU of 27 member states, and this is why industry consolidation is needed.
A recent report by Copenhagen Economics estimated that Europe is forgoing a 4% increase of GDP, or €500 billion, because of the lack of an internal market. This is also due to the fact that the current telecom framework focuses on competition within individual member states, and is not leading to a significant alignment of the market conditions, including prices, technologies, speed, coverage and quality in the EU.
To bring competition to a pan-European level, the EU plans to provide broadband access for all by 2013, but this should take place both through wireless and fixed lines. Spending €400 billion to bring fiber optics everywhere is unthinkable. This is why we need to allocate more spectrum to wireless technologies.
In the U.S., after the 700 MHz auction that paved the way for long-range wireless broadband, the Obama administration announced that it will make another 500MHz of spectrum available to mobile technologies and services in the next 10 years. But spectrum, by itself, is not sufficient. It is too late to converge in the approach to fixed-line broadband deployment—member states have already taken the lead, individually.
Europe needs a big bang, pan-European auctioning of 4G wireless services, with a limited number of providers—say, 12—that collectively serve the whole EU territory. Providers of these 4G networks may well be the result of consolidation between existing players in different countries. This also means that member states should make their spectrum resources available to enable the launch of pan-European wireless services: Manufacturers would also be relieved, as they would have sufficient scale to profitably launch their new devices.
Investments in smart networks, including wireless, are necessary to ensure good quality of service. As stressed by a recent European Commission report, ”4th-generation mobile technology, which allows video streaming, full web browsing and fast downloads on a mobile handset will enable larger amounts of information to be processed and transmitted.”
European Commission figures also show that a ”coordinated management of spectrum could give an economic boost of up to €44 billion to the EU’s economy.”
In order to reap the benefits of the digital single market, it’s time the EU develops a 21st-century competition policy instead of re-propositioning an already out of date regulatory scheme.
Mr. Renda is senior research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies. Mr. Hökmark is a member of the European Parliament.