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EU to extend telecom rules to Big Tech, considers spectrum management

The European Commission said on Wednesday it may seek to manage radio spectrum as part of a revamp of the European telecoms market, as well as broaden existing rules to include Big Tech and ensure a level playing field for telecoms operators.

The Commission said interested parties have until June 30 to provide feedback to its proposals called the Connectivity Package.

The EU executive has said more than 200 billion euros ($216 billion) is needed from the public and private sector to roll out 5G networks and broadband across the 27-country bloc.

Its proposals aim to create conditions to encourage more investment by cutting red tape, coordinating the sale of valuable spectrum and extending telecoms rules to Big Tech.

The overhaul could include “a more harmonised approach to authorisation procedures of telecoms operators, a more integrated governance at Union level for spectrum and possible changes in wholesale access policy”, the Commission said in a statement.

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said the package may also help to stimulate consolidation in the telecoms sector, pushing back against companies’ suggestions that merger rules are hindering deals.

“Today there’s nothing from a competition policy angle that prevents telcos from consolidating cross border,” she told a press conference.

“The reason that they don’t is not because of obstacles from competition… it is more likely that it is the burden of having to deal with different regulations. All of that, of course makes it less economically attractive,” Vestager said.

Earlier this week, she dismissed any suggestion that she would loosen merger rules for telecoms mergers.

In a nod to telecoms providers’ push for Alphabet’s Google, Meta, Amazon, Netflix, Apple and Microsoft to bear some of the 5G rollout costs, the Commission said measures were needed to ensure a level playing field.

It said it may “rethink the scope of application and objectives of its current regulatory framework”.

Telecoms lobbying group ETNO welcomed the proposals, saying a diverse ecosystem requires reforming EU rules and policies.

“With the transition to gigabit infrastructures, 5G, cloud-defined networks and AI-automation, Europe’s telecom and competition policy needs a paradigm shift in light of the new market and technology reality,” it said in a statement.

Tech lobbying group CCIA pushed back against any move to get Big Tech to help fund infrastructure upgrades.

“Europe needs to support the connectivity sector as a whole, not prop up a few companies unwilling to compete fairly,” Senior Vice President and Head of CCIA Europe Daniel Friedlaender said. Reuters

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