The landscape of European mobile communications is set for another change. From 15 May 2019, any retail price (excluding VAT) charged to consumers for regulated intra-EU communications shall not exceed EUR 0.19 per minute for calls and EUR 0.06 per SMS message. The new rules on retail price caps for intra-EU communications (fixed and mobile calls and SMS) are introduced by the EU Regulation (EU) 2015/2120 as amended). New Europe’s Irene Kostaki sat down with Jeremy Godfrey, the 2019 Chair of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and discussed developments and the current state of affairs in the telecommunications market in the European Union.
New Europe (NE): What has been the most significant outcome of the 38th board meeting for BEREC, which was the first meeting after the adoption of the European Electronic Communications Code?
Jeremy Godfrey (JG): There are a series of guidelines concerning the non-European Economic Area (EEA) in addition to the regulated tariff covering third countries, including intra-EU communications where the prices of intra-EU communications may exceed the caps. According to what BEREC has published, consumers should have the option to deliberately choose such tariffs. We talked about what type of services were covered, what kind of tariffs, and which countries are covered. We had guidelines in things like the call duration apart from alternative tariffs. Right now, we have until 15 May, when the regulation gets incorporated into the EEA agreement…we will also have Norway, Lichtenstein, and Iceland. There were also some guidelines on the derogations, which were of less interest for the stakeholders. We also agreed on the way that BEREC is doing its planning and presenting a cycle starting this year in March.
Another set of important discussions we had focused on is communications and transparency.We agreed to publish more documents. We have an exercise to investigate which documents we are going to publish, but we have a list concerning the work programme with the milestones of the projects. This will lead to the Expert group being more transparent. We will also have some guidelines on access to documents requests to be more transparent about things we publish proactively. We will also work further on engagement by asking every team to plan a stakeholder engagement for every project.
Two things we are considering a little bit further – one is a transparency registry about meetings, and we are also going to consider further the idea of a permanent stakeholder group. Some of the agencies like ENISA (the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security), have such a permanent stakeholder group where they invite and have 30 holders. When we have an open, public workshop some of the stakeholders would not always be comfortable with sharing the information, but we do not want to be limited in a closed group. We would like to have openness and transparency, but also allow groups to engage in a semi-private way. We won’t create a magic circle of uniquely privileged people, but we are trying to figure out how best to achieve it.
NE: This coming June, BEREC will celebrate its 10th anniversary. What has been the ability of BEREC to adapt to a changing technology, industry, and market landscape in the last 10 years? Looking ahead, what will BEREC’s work focus on in the next decade and what has been the role and input of its members in develomping that vision? How are European regulators gearing up for the regulatory challenges of the future, including further consolidation of the industry?
JG: If you go back 10 years, smartphones were in their infancy and the growth of how people use mobile data and streaming has changed the landscape enormously. BEREC and the NRAs, each of which look at the subject, have been following the changing technology with a different G in mobile networks coming over every 6 years. On the fixed side, the change from copper to fibre and high capacity wireless networks feels like a once-in-a- generation, if not a once-in-a-lifetime, change. The EU approach to regulation has on one hand provided incentives to invest and, on the other hand, made sure that there is the ability for competition to develop. The decision of the NRAs has been based on very local conditions and guided by BEREC’s guidelines. This is clearly something that we need to continue to focus on. BEREC has some projects in place to better understand the dynamics and demand for these networks, as well as the business case for deployment and the competitive environment to which they are deployed.
Looking further into the future, the biggest change is that telecoms is a means to an end, not an end of, itself, anymore. Now the reason why you want to have this phone and the reason you want to have a broadband connection at home, nobody wants data for the sake of data. You want it for the sake of the application and for what it provides, whether it is messaging, social media, video streaming, gaming, etc. So the purpose of telecoms is now to enable people to enjoy these applications and that is a big change. Both BEREC and NRAs need to understand what the new connectivity implications of those applications are, and then to see if what we do really supports innovation. We need to understand it better. What the regulation implications are, exactly. We have a project on 5G and IT, there is a whole ecosystem of applications that need to be developed.
NE: In that context, what is the best way to ensure that the benefits from synergies and economies of scale will not increase market power at the expense of consumers?
JG: I think there are new possible market power problems, so telecoms regulators have been traditionally focused on wholesale communications market. That is essentially the market power derived by the ownership of the network, which is too expensive for someone else to replicate, but we certainly see new sources of market power such as the ownership of data. This is not really telecoms related, but we think that telecom regulators can give input to policymakers as to how market power issues have been addressed to telecoms and could be applicable in market power issues elsewhere in the digital economy. This will be the major challenge for policymakers and regulators in the next decade. It would be issues related to the regulation of data. From a BEREC perspective, it is not for us to solve the issues but to contribute to the debate without expertise.
NE: Is the Electronic Communications Code fit for purpose and will it stand the test of time? Or will it need to be updated?
The code has not yet been transposed, so we have to obviously first use it and assess the results. The basic provisions of the code, in terms of the market power and data regulation have not changed. There have been some additional provisions introduced as to how to apply it in high capacity networks, and quite useful improvements in consumer protection provisions, as well as on how the number-based services should be treated in the same way as consumer services. It is interesting how NRAs, together with the guidelines by BEREC, can apply those principles as environments, as technology changes can cause competition problems.
NE: There are issues such as spectrum management that have not been fully addressed by the new code as had happened with the previous sets of rules. Do you think there are opportunities for National Regulatory Authorities, BEREC, and bodies like the Radio Spectrum Policy Group to enhance cooperation in order to address the request of many players in the private sector who demand more harmonisation and clarity as prerequisites for much-needed infrastructure investments in Europe?
JG: The decision of the co-legislators was to leave this out of the code. That is not to say that cooperation and peer learning is non-existent. That is something we need to enhance. BEREC and RSPG intend to work together and more closely than we had in the past, particularly because we have BEREC members with certain expertise in things like spectrum assignment that are not part of RSPG. We need to have all the experts in the room and we certainly do not want to wait two years for the code to be transposed. There are, obviously, some more member state-governance issues that we can have a lot of influence on.
NE: So far, what has been the reception of, and what do you foresee further reactions to be, to the BEREC Guidelines on intra-EU communications published this week among industries and consumers?
JG: As we said in the stakeholder debrief, if there is anything missing found in the light of experience by applying the guidelines, we had very little time to clarify. The working group did a great job in taking a wider scope in a short time, but we are willing to let the stakeholders tell us that we should clarify the guidelines, I think that we should take those comments on board.