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Digital Agenda: Commission indicates no fundamental change to Universal Service
The European Commission recently announced there is currently no need to change the basic concept, principles or scope of EU rules on Universal Service to include mobile telecommunications services and broadband connections at EU level. The Commission has come to this conclusion on the basis of a public consultation and its third periodic review of the scope of this service (see IP/10/218 ).
The Commission has also concluded that it would not be appropriate, at this stage, to set at EU level a single broadband connection speed under the universal service rules, given the very different stages of development of telecoms networks in the Member States and the potential costs involved. In particular, the burden on industry and the impact on consumer prices would be greatest in Member States with currently low broadband coverage and income levels. However, Member States retain the flexibility to include broadband connections in their national USO in justified cases. This will usually be when broadband take-up is already sufficiently high. To date, Finland, Malta and Spain provide for a minimum broadband speed in national law.
The Commission has indicated the areas where further guidance may be needed in the future to help Member States implement the universal service rules most effectively. These include:
criteria used when Member States decide the data rate at which internet access is to be provided under their national universal service rules;
mechanisms for designating universal service providers;
calculating the net cost of universal service obligations (USO);
financing mechanisms, including possible safeguards to prevent an undue burden falling on operators;
measures for end-users with disabilities.
Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda said: "I want to ensure that the universal service rules play their proper part in bringing the benefits of the digital economy to people in Europe, while at the same time avoiding the imposition of a disproportionate burden on the sector or undue market distortion."
The public consultation showed a wide variety of views, including many stakeholders support the existing principles and favour maintaining the key features of the universal service regime.
Liberalisation of the telecoms sector in the late 1990s was accompanied by universal service rules to act as a safety net where the market alone did not deliver basic services. The aim was to prevent social exclusion by ensuring that citizens in rural and remote areas or low-income households had affordable access to basic and essential telecoms services.
Current EU rules (under the EU’s Universal Service Directive of 2002) require Member States to ensure that citizens must be able to connect to the public phone network at a fixed location and access public phone services for voice and data communications with functional access to the Internet. The Directive also requires Member States to ensure that consumers have access to directory enquiry services and directories, public payphones and special measures if they are disabled. The Commission reviews the scope of the Universal Service Directive every 3 years (see IP/08/1397 , IP/05/594 , IP/06/488 ).
The aim of the rules is to avoid social exclusion. Since consumers have widespread affordable access to mobile communications services there is no risk of social exclusion and no need to include those services in the universal service obligations.
The Commission's aim is to provide practical guidance to assist Member States in establishing consistent practice across the EU and to promote regulatory predictability for the markets. It is intended that discussions with the Member States, BEREC, the European Parliament and the industry on the contents of this guidance will be pursued on the basis of the Commission's Communication.
The Communication is available at:
More on universal service:
Neelie Kroes' website: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/kroes/
Follow Neelie Kroes on Twitter: http://twitter.com/neeliekroeseu
Linda Cain (+32 2 299 90 19)