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GSMA’s Bouverot sends operator-backed open letter to Kroes calling for European reform

Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA

Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA

The director general of the GSMA, Anne Bouverot, has sent an open letter to EC Commissioner Neelie Kroes calling for policy reform that will encourage investment in Europe’s telecoms sector. Bouverot secured endorsements from the CEOs of ten European operators with a combined European mobile customer base of almost three quarters of a billion subscriptions, according to data from Informa’s World Cellular Investors service.

The GSMA said that, despite Europe having the highest regional mobile penetration in the world, it was the only area in which revenues have declined, from €162bn in 2010 to €142bn in 2013. Despite this, the organisation said, “comprehensive policy reform” could enable the European mobile sector to drive investment, improve connectivity and enable innovation.

It is increasingly popular to compare Europe unfavourably with the US and Bouverot’s letter warned that European operators are “facing decreasing revenues and reduced market values compared with oeprators in the US and Asia,” as well as other players in the sector, for which read the internet and OS powerhouses. “This is impairing our ability to invest in the communications infrastructure needed to put Europe back on the path to growth and jobs,” she added.

Bouverot stressed the need for a regulatory overhaul that would enable operators to act unencumbered by “unnecessary layers of regulation”, drive greater harmony across the region and permit operators to consolidate to restructure the market.

She also called for “a level playing field for all”, a statement that again appeared to put internet players in her sights. Even-handed regulation “across the value chain” was needed, she said, as well as “consistent applications of rules irrespective of the technology being used, who is providing the service or where individuals are located.”

Internet players like Google and Facebook (with its recent WhatsApp acquisition) have long been developing services that compete with operators’ core service offerings but attract none of the regulation that comes with a licence to operate a network. Moreover they are driving huge levels of traffic at little or no cost to themselves.

“Operators must have the commercial freedom to develop new business models, innovate at the network and service level, and offer customised services in order to restore the investment climate and drive innovation and competition in the global marketplace,” Bouverot said.

She also called for comprehensive reform of spectrum management policies and a fresh approach to privacy and security issues to improve consumer protection.

While many within the European community look to the leading US operators as evidence that revenue improvements are possible, critics of the US suggest that competition is limited, leaving consumers with too little choice. Meanwhile Kroes’ regulatory reform has focused very much on reducing the costs that must be borne by consumers of mobile telephony.

In recent conversations with, Hannes Ametstreiter, CEO of Telekom Austria (and one of those name-checked in Bouverot’s letter) and Michel Combes, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, have voiced similar opinions to those expressed by Bouverot.

The letter was endoresed by, Timotheus Höttges, CEO, Deutsche Telekom AG; Christian Salbaing, Deputy Chairman, Hutchison Whampoa Europe; Stéphane Richard, Chairman and CEO, Orange; Marco Patuano, CEO, Telecom Italia; César Alierta, Executive Chairman and CEO, Telefónica; Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO, Telekom Austria Group; Jon Fredrik Baksaas, President and CEO, Telenor Group and Chairman, GSMA Board; Johan Dennelind, President and CEO, TeliaSonera; Jo Lunder, CEO, VimpelCom; and Vittorio Colao, CEO, Vodafone Group.

European telecoms reform faces delay

The European Commission has said that its proposals to reform of the EU telecoms market are unlikely to gain approval before September or October 2014

The European Commission has said that its proposals to reform of the EU telecoms market are unlikely to gain approval before September or October 2014

Further restrictions on European roaming charges are now likely to be introduced in September or October, rather than July as originally planned. In its initial proposals to reform the EU telecoms market, the European Commission intended to ban incoming call charges for roaming citizens within the region by July 1st 2014.

“We won’t have the sign off from the national governments of the EU member states in July,” an EC spokesman told to “It’ll certainly be in 2014, but it’s much more likely we’ll see it finalised in September and October.”

The spokesman said that the EC is confident that the package will remain intact structurally but admitted that it is likely that there will be some compromises made on its way to gaining approval from EU committees and member state governments.

“It won’t look exactly how we wrote it, but we’re confident that it will stay roughly together the way we wanted it and that we’ll get it finished by October,” he said.

“We’re not too concerned if that’s a little bit delayed, what matters is that we get the final agreement and we’re on track to do that in September.”

The proposals are already fully supported by the EC and in the next stage, they will be sent to the European Parliament, where various committees will examine them and offer suggestions and amendments. Then in April 2014, all 700 MEPs will take a vote on the proposals. The proposals will then be sent on to member state governments.

“The first real step is April when you get the full parliament giving a vote,” said the spokesman. “Then you know exactly what you’re negotiating with with the member states. They will then carry out those negotiations over the two months that follow.”

A qualified majority of member states – 20 out of the 28 – must vote for the proposals for them to gain approval, and the member states will decide between them when the vote will take place. The EC claims this is likely to happen at a meeting in September or October.

Once the proposals are approved, it will officially become EU law, and member states will have to fully implement the proposals.

Kroes calls for education and employment reform

Neelie Kroes wants education in the EU to improve, using ICT skills.

Neelie Kroes wants education in the EU to improve, using ICT skills.

European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, this week outlined her intentions to transform education across the EU using information and communications technology (ICT). Kroes, along with the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou, plan to unveil new proposals to reform education in Europe next week.

Kroes said that ICT enables a whole new way of learning as information is no longer “locked up” and open resources enable “a million different ways to learn”. She added that teachers are “no longer gatekeepers, but guides”.

“It’s about ICT transforming teaching, just as is has transformed and disrupted so much else in our lives. Learning anywhere, anyhow; learning that’s made-to-measure not off-the-peg. It’s about truly integrating technological tools for twenty-first century teaching,” she said.

But Kroes acknowledged that there are barriers blocking her vision, such as teachers being unfamiliar with ICT or being underequipped. There is also legal uncertainty on what educational institutions can share and access, she said, and in some countries almost half the pupils don’t even have internet at school.

Kroes also called for IT and telecoms firms to do more for the continent’s workforce.

She said that there are more jobs in the digital sector than can be filled at the moment, but that these jobs are waiting for the next generation with the right digital skills.

She attributed this as the reason the EU set up a Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs; a multi-stakeholder partnership to tackle the lack of ICT skills and the hundreds of thousands of unfilled ICT-related vacancies. Kroes also hailed operator group Telefonica for being among the first to present pledges to that initiative.

“It’s not just about safe jobs in big companies of course. With low costs , low barriers to entry, and no limit to your creativity, the internet is a great place for innovators to be. And the natural home for anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset,” she said.

“People who don’t just think: “I could buy this gadget!” – but: “I could make it better”! People who don’t just notice all the problems – but spot the opportunities, and innovate to capture them. Those who don’t dream of a nice steady “9 to 5″ – but want to take a risk and break out on their own.”

Kroes also noted a study revealing that although young Europeans are more digital than the older generation, compared to young people elsewhere in the world, they are actually more pessimistic about the possibilities of technology.

“I want to change that. Once we led the world in ICT: why not any more? Why shouldn’t our people have hope in a digital future? Why shouldn’t Europe be the home of a vibrant digital culture, strong digital companies, and limitless digital creativity? Why shouldn’t the next Facebook, the next Google, the next Kickstarter be European?”

“I think they can. We have the tools, we have the technology, we definitely have the talent. And in a connected continent there is no limit to our ambitions.”

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