5G net neutrality: EU telcos draw line in the sand

8 Jul 2016

In a ‘manifesto’ published yesterday (Thursday 7th July), a group of leading European telecoms service providers and equipment manufacturers called for a relaxation of net neutrality rules, threatening to withhold investment in new 5G network rollouts if their demands are not met. The document, which is backed by the likes of BT Group, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Vodafone Group, Ericsson and Nokia, on the one hand promises to deliver 5G services in at least one city of each EU member state by 2020, but adds the caveat that they will do so only if net neutrality rules are eased. In the manifesto, which is endorsed by 17 companies in total, the signatories set out their position as follows: ‘The EU and member states must reconcile the need for Open Internet with pragmatic rules that foster innovation. The telecom industry warns that the current Net Neutrality guidelines, as put forward by BEREC [Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications], create significant uncertainties around 5G return on investment. Investments are therefore likely to be delayed unless regulators take a positive stance on innovation and stick to it. Telco and industry verticals concur that the implementation of net neutrality laws should allow for both innovative specialised services required by industrial applications and the internet access quality expected by all consumers. In this context we must highlight the danger of restrictive net neutrality rules, in the context of 5G technologies, business applications and beyond. 5G introduces the concept of "network slicing" to accommodate a wide-variety of industry verticals’ business models on a common platform, at scale and with services guarantees.’

Last month, the draft ‘BEREC Guidelines on the Implementation by National Regulators of European Net Neutrality Rules’ was approved for public consultation at the BEREC Board of Regulators meeting in Vienna, Austria. An EU law to safeguard open internet access, and commonly referred to as the ‘Telecoms Single Market Regulation’, was adopted in November 2015 and came into force on 30 April this year. The law included a requirement for BEREC to provide guidance on the implementation of the obligations of national regulatory authorities (NRAs).

Whilst, openly at least, the European Commission (EC) has welcomed the insight and input from the industry’s main players – Light Reading notes that Gunther H. Oettinger, the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, referred to the manifesto as ‘a valuable input for the 5G Action Plan that will be presented in September, together with the proposal for the review of the telecom regulatory framework’ – historically speaking, the EU has been resolved in its strict adherence to net neutrality principles, arguing for tough guidelines to protect the development of over-the-top (OTT) services such as VoIP and IM platforms which are supplanting traditional services from telecoms service providers.

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