This morning, the European Commission adopted its long-awaited Communication on the review of the Scope of Universal Service. As expected, the proposal is to maintain the scope unchanged at this time, i.e. NOT to extend it to mobile communications and to broadband access.
Update: The European Commission's Communication COM(2005)203 on the Review of the Scope of Universal Service in accordance with Article 15 of Directive 2002/22/EC and an associated Commission Staff Working Paper SEC(2005)660 are now available. Links are provided at the end of this T-REGS news item.
The European Commission has also issued a press release entitled 'Safeguarding e-communications services for all in the internet era: Commission opens policy debate' and a 'FAQ on the Review of the Scope of Universal Service in Electronic Communications'.
The key statement contained in the press release is as follows:
"There is no need to introduce new legal requirements for mobile and high-speed internet services under the EU’s universal service rules at the moment, says the European Commission in a Communication issued today, but there is a need for but a forward-looking policy debate,. The Universal Service Directive, in place since 2002, seeks to safeguard good e-communications services throughout the EU by dealing with circumstances in which the basic consumer needs are not satisfactorily met by the market. This means the possibility to impose financial cross-subsidies from one group of customers to another. The review Communication issued today finds that consumers already have widespread affordable access to mobile communications, so universal service obligations would not benefit the consumer. And so far only a small – although fast-growing – minority has a high-speed (broadband) internet connection, so subjecting broadband to universal service obligations would result in unfair financial transfers between consumers. However, in the future, as services traditionally carried by telephone networks become more and more internet-based, the focus of universal service may evolve towards providing an affordable broadband access link for all."
The key statement contained in the FAQ is as follows:
"Competitive and open markets of mobile communications in the EU have resulted in consumers already having widespread affordable access to mobile communications, in particular thanks to the affordable pre-paid packages, which allow low income consumers a basic connection to the network. Therefore there is no need to extend universal service requirements to mobile communications - as this would not benefit the consumer.
Member States have put comprehensive national broadband strategies in place, but as yet, the overall proportion of the population in the EU using broadband is less than 7% (the latest data, compiled since the Communication was finalised, suggests that 8.8% of the EU population now has a fixed broadband connection). Broadband has not yet become necessary for normal participation in society, such that lack of access implies social exclusion. At the present time, therefore, the conditions for including broadband services within the scope of universal service are not fulfilled - as this would result in unfair cross-substitution of a minority of consumers by the majority."
Interested parties are invited to comment on the European Commission consultation by 15 July 2005.