The Digital Single Market: two years on

In May 2015, the European Commission issued its strategy setting out its aim to improve the delivery and operation of digital services across the EU. The Commission made its first real attempt to consistently integrate the digital challenges faced in bringing trustworthy, accessible services to as many EU citizens as possible.

These plans have been of direct interest to telecoms companies, such as Orange, from the outset. Telcos can enable a wide range of digital services and provide the networks which carry these services.  Hence, of course, Orange welcomes the European Commission’s willingness to harmonise the digital rules across the different Member States. We are also directly committed to the security of the networks themselves – as well as the privacy and protection of the data that passes over them.

This article aims to recall the European Commission’s strategy towards a Digital Single Market and to give an overview of what the Commission intends to do before the end of its mandate in 2019.

The DSM in outline

The proposals stand, in the familiar way, on three ‘pillars’:

1.    Better access for consumers and business to online goods: helping to make the EU's digital world a seamless and level marketplace to buy and sell.
2.    The right environment for digital networks and services: designing rules which match the pace of technology and support infrastructure development.
3.    Economy and Society: ensuring that Europe's economy, industry and employment take full advantage of what digitalisation offers.

Of these three, the telecoms industry has been most closely connected with the second and third pillars.
The pillar on the right environment for digital networks and services will shape and influence the way our industry works for many years to come.
Foremost among its policies is the Proposed Directive establishing the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC). This instrument combines a number of telecoms-specific measures including: access regulation and market analysis; promotion of infrastructure competition and investment; spectrum management; universal service; end-user protection rules; numbering and emergency communication and, finally, measures to simplify regulation, where possible.
Orange welcomes the Commission’s vision and believes that the draft EECC is a sound basis for a new, modernised and simplified framework that supports further investment – an urgent need identified in the proposal itself. Some provisions, however, require further work and refinement.
Orange has also welcomed the new developments in the trust arena including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into force next year. We also look forward to participating in discussions focusing on the upcoming e-privacy Regulation whose aim to create a ‘level playing field’ with over-the-top players is welcome. However, since the GDPR has significantly strengthened the existing general privacy regime in Europe, maintaining a double set of horizontal and sector-specific rules risks hampering innovation.
Other important building blocks of this pillar include the Public Private Partnership on Cybersecurity whose relevance has been highlighted once again in recent weeks.
The final pillar, Economy and society takes in a number of useful measures including the European Cloud Initiative, in which Orange played a part, and the strategy on ICT standardisation that sets out goals with regard to five key areas: 5G communications, cloud computing, the internet of things (IoT), (big) data technologies and cybersecurity - all of which have direct relevance to the telecoms industry as a whole, and in which of course Orange is active. There are also measures to make more state data available and promote the free flow of data across the Union.

Mid-term review

Almost exactly two years after the publication of its strategy, the Commission has issued a ‘mid-term review’ summing up progress so far. To date, the Commission can point to the delivery of some 35 legislative proposals and policy initiatives, but with only one so far reaching the institutional agreement stage.
Next steps will be trying to ensure that the flagship measures – in the Draft Telecoms Code - achieve rapid progress through the legislative system.

Among upcoming plans of direct interest to our industry we can expect the Commission to:

  • Prepare a legislative proposal on the EU free flow of data cooperation framework by Autumn 2017.
  • Seek further harmonisation of spectrum management and explore strengthening cooperation with partners in third countries to develop common, open ICT standards for the Internet of Things, 5G, cloud computing and big data.
  • Prepare an initiative on accessibility and re-use of public and publicly funded data, in Spring 2018.
  • Review the 2013 EU Cybersecurity Strategy and develop measures on cyber security standards, certification and labelling.
  • Call on the Member States to implement the strategy on Digitising European Industry and to take stock of results achieved by early 2018.
  • Adopt a Communication in 2017 addressing the need and scope for further measures in the area of digital health and care.
  • Promote Online Platforms as responsible players of a fair internet ecosystem.

Conclusion

The DSM program has set the stage for a coherent and consistent internal market in digital services. This is important for the European industry whose main competitors tend to have large, homogenous home markets and benefit from, among other things, the economies of scale these bring. The Commission programme is also likely to create a more investment-friendly environment.
However, another key to the success of external competitors has been a ‘slim-line’ regulatory context. Keeping regulation to the minimum necessary to achieve these objectives should remain the legislator’s purpose.