In the wake of claims earlier this month that European Union (EU) regulators were preparing to remove limits on the prices that fixed network operators can charge for accessing their networks, the Belgian Institute for Post and Telecommunications (BIPT) has confirmed it will no longer regulate fixed telephony services for residential or business customers. In making the announcement the Belgian watchdog also confirmed that it had decided to lift the price control and transparency obligations imposed on fixed line incumbent Belgacom at the retail level, saying it was doing so as the telco was ‘increasingly facing competition’. The 24 September 2014 decision replaces the regulator’s previous ruling on the matter of 6 November 2008.
As reported by Reuters earlier in September, the EU’s member states were said to have approved a union-wide measure related to new recommendations, paving the way for its formal adoption by mid-October 2014. The EU’s existing ‘recommendation on relevant markets’ defines those telecoms markets that are subject to regulation at the EU level with a view to ensuring there is enough competition among operators. However, if national regulators can show that a particular market is not dominated by a single operator then they can deregulate it. Meanwhile, as per the new recommendations national regulators will not need to provide proof to remove limits on wholesale prices. In addition, the final decision on whether to open a market will rest with the national regulators, in line with which Germany’s telecoms regulator signalled in July that it would continue to regulate prices for fixed calls.
Incumbent telecoms operators have argued the move towards deregulation will help boost investment in broadband infrastructure, with the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), a telecoms lobbying group, cited as saying: ‘Competition from alternative platforms and over-the-top [OTT] service competition are today well established, and this recommendation is the right instrument to adapt regulation to the new market reality.’ On the other side of the coin, some parties have suggested that opening up the wholesale market could dent margins for smaller operators that rely on capacity rented from incumbents. With the EU’s group of national telecoms regulators the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC) said to have claimed that deregulation is premature and likely to lead to price increases for consumers, the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), a telecoms lobbying group representing companies including TalkTalk, Wind and E-Plus, was cited as saying: ‘In the vast majority of member states, end-users will have very little choice – often only one, the incumbent – if fixed voice regulation is removed … Such premature deregulation will harm competition and thus ultimately the users, be they consumers or businesses.’