Letter from the International Telecommunications Users Group (INTUG) -For the attention of all National Regulatory Authorities and BEREC officers
INTUG is writing to you on behalf of business users of communications services, whom we have represented globally since 1974. Our joint survey, conducted with BEREC, concluded that attention is needed to address the absence of effective competition in the EU business market, and the multiple examples of market failures in key areas. INTUG welcomed the inclusion of this topic in BEREC's Work Programmes for 2010 and 2011.
It is worth reiterating why this matter is of such great concern to business users, and why it merits allocation of BEREC resource, given the many other urgent demands on BEREC.
This letter therefore highlights a few high priority areas where the needs of international business users are distinctly different from those of domestic mass market consumers, and where focused BEREC attention is needed to establish and address the reasons for the absence of required services, and the lack of effective competition.
Greater harmonisation and consistency will benefit all users, but is of particular concern for business users. Commissioner Kroes has emphasized the importance of standards. When we met her, we gave her a key example which creates cost and difficulty for business users, and that is implementation of SIP. If Unified Communications are to be a success, a standard approach must be adopted and implemented by all Member States and vendors.
Different approaches are also being pursued for emergency numbers and guidelines are needed for companies to establish “hotspots” for network access and for cloud computing.
2 Broadband Access
Business users require a competitive cross-border wholesale broadband access market, to enable their network service providers to deliver seamless end-to-end services, which meet service quality minima. This is an essential component in the implementation of new business processes across the Single Market. These processes drive on-line commerce, improve efficiency and generate economic growth and jobs. Current arrangements impose bottlenecks, which severely hamper the ability of systems integrators and network service providers, by limitations on access to incumbents’ wholesale broadband infrastructure. The NGA Recommendation should address some of the concerns in this area, but there are dangers that business users needs will not be met at all, let alone provided in a vibrant international competitive market. Vigilance is needed to avoid the exploitation of any loopholes in the wording. This issue does not affect domestic mass-market consumers directly, although it does limit their own welfare benefit from the Single Market indirectly.
3 International Mobile Services
Business users are particularly badly served by the current mobile market, which is a dysfunctional patchwork of national operators, focused on mass-market end consumer competition within each Member State. Business users suffer from the absence of international services per se, let alone competition between them, and are penalised further by the high mark-up inter-operator tariff arrangements for balanced international traffic, which are then used to apply an exorbitant price for the remaining marginal traffic.
The lack of MVNOs in many Member States prevents EU-wide contractual arrangements, despite some larger operators offering contracts that provide benefit when connections are between networks within their own organisational structure. Roaming charges are just one symptom of this malaise, which has a particularly damaging impact on international mobile data applications for businesses. Whilst the issue does affect domestic mass-market consumers to some degree, for example through high roaming charges when on holiday, the most serious impact is on the business market. Users are deterred from introducing new services due to high cost, and they are burdened with large administrative effort and costs in managing multiple commercial arrangements.
4 Network Neutrality/Traffic Prioritisation
Business users have been largely ignored in the debate on network neutrality, which has been dominated by infringement of IPR, for example through illegal downloading and file sharing of entertainment content. Various remedies being considered and implemented fail to acknowledge the impact on the business user, for whom end to end access to content and applications is dependent on free and varying choice of device and service provider. Different organisations linked in an extended supply chain need continuity of connection to support electronic trade transactions, regardless of their network providers.
Exclusive attention to individual domestic single site consumers, who have the flexibility to switch from one content provider to another, and one network provider to another, overlooks the fact that such options are not feasible for the business user. Furthermore, the nature of business traffic can be distinctly different from that of mass-market consumers - it can be symmetric as well as asymmetric, it is more sensitive to latency and congestion, and it cannot recover easily from short interruptions. These matters need specialist analysis.
5 Spectrum Harmonisation
INTUG welcomes the RSPP and the objectives of greater harmonisation and improved efficiency in spectrum management throughout the EU. The licensing of 4G/LTE networks is a key opportunity in this area. The subject has special considerations for business users, related in part to the observations above regarding mobile services in general, and the potential it offers for spectrum and access network sharing with automatic free roaming.
Machine to machine communications in the business market, with an increased use of technologies such as RFID tags in consumer items, will provide opportunities for improved efficiency and innovation, but these are dependent on appropriate consistency and licence conditions, as frequencies are allocated and awarded to mobile operators. The needs of the business community must be fully represented in the dialogue, and NRAs must ensure national licence awards, e.g. via auctions, carefully consider the business market impact.
The European Commission is consulting publicly on future harmonisation of numbering resources for business services. This tacitly acknowledges there are separate needs for the business service market, and is welcomed by INTUG. The creation of some corporate numbering space in some Member States has attempted in the past to address this issue. Any numbering decisions in the future must be taken at BEREC level, rather than within individual Member States through their NRAs, as it has a profound impact on international businesses. This is another area where debate has been dominated by considerations related to mass-market domestic consumers, whereas the biggest impact, especially in terms of cost when numbering schemes are changed, falls on businesses.
This letter has addressed just 6 areas where business user needs are different from those of domestic mass-market consumers. All NRAs need to acknowledge this in the context of their national markets, but the purpose of this letter is to highlight its importance at EU level, and to urge BEREC to allocate adequate resource and attention to plan a programme of actions in the business market, including regulation, to enable a seamless Single Market of international communications services for business users throughout the EU.
INTUG stands ready to help BEREC, and through its member associations to help NRAs, in this important area, which has the potential to transform the business service market.
Nick White, Executive Vice President
International Telecommunications Users Group (INTUG)