EU budget cuts may mean that Europe falls behind on technological advances already achieved in the telecoms sector, warns the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in its critical assessment of the European Commission's revised proposal for telecoms networks in Europe.
"There was a great deal at stake when the telecoms budget for 2014-2020 was still foreseen to be EUR 9 billion. Pruning it to EUR 1 billion will result in a freeze that may deprive the EU of advances already made in numerous strategic sectors", argues Jacques Lemercier (Workers' Group, France), EESC rapporteur for an opinion on guidelines for trans-European telecommunications networks.
The EU has set itself ambitious targets for broadband roll-out and take-up by 2020. However, the telecoms envelope, which was supposed to finance it and was originally set at EUR 9.2 billion for 2014-2020, was slashed during negotiations on the EU's next seven-year budget.
This cut led the European Commission to amend its proposal on guidelines for the trans-European telecommunications networks. The new text seeks to earmark the limited funding for a smaller number of digital service infrastructures and leverage private and public investment to develop broadband networks.
Europe needs a new regulatory policy
The Committee has come out in favour of designing a new European policy for regulating the networks. It takes the view that although the existing policy has doubtless led to greater competition and innovation and resulted in lower prices for consumers, it has also restricted the investment capacity of many operators.
The EESC is convinced that a new policy of this kind would lead to "close, coordinated involvement of the major European operators" who, when Europe pulls itself out of the crisis, could "make up the ground lost in developing broadband and ultra-fast broadband, and eliminate gaps in coverage".
The Committee is unequivocal about the need to include internet access in the universal service in so far as internet access is "a key factor in the growth of modern economies and is vital for creating jobs and ensuring greater cohesion and well-being".
The Committee will discuss the need to reform the EU Flagship Initiative on the Digital Agenda for Europe at an upcoming seminar to be held on 4 December in Brussels.