Underpinning Europe’s Digital Future: A Call to Action for Next-Generation Connectivity

As EU Telecommunications and Digitalisation ministers are meeting in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, to debate the challenges that our industry will face in the coming years and the recently published White Paper which tackles Europe’s digital infrastructure needs, I would like to take this opportunity and once again stress the need for a new digital infrastructure framework that fosters investment, innovation, and a harmonized digital market. The GSMA and leading European mobile operators named it as the key priority for the next EU mandate in ‘A Mobile Industry Manifesto for Europe’.

The last few decades have showcased the transformative power of mobile connectivity, not just as a tool for communication, but as a foundational pillar of modern societies and economies. Today, European policymakers have an increasingly clear task ahead: the next legislative cycle represents a critical juncture to enact the policy changes needed to secure Europe’s digital future.

The European Union’s Digital Decade targets are not just aspirations but vital milestones on our path to becoming once again a global digital leader. Achieving these targets hinges on our ability to incentivise and support massive investment in mobile networks—the arteries through which the lifeblood of digital innovation flows, and digital economies flourish. Yet, the current regulatory environment poses significant challenges to this mission, necessitating a bold reimagining of our approach to digital policy and infrastructure development.

The Current Landscape and Its Challenges

Our continent has made significant strides in the digital domain, with achievements in online safety, fairness in digital markets through the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), and pioneering regulation in Artificial Intelligence. These accomplishments reflect Europe’s commitment to a secure, competitive, and equitable digital space.

However, despite these advances, the telecom sector faces systemic challenges that hinder the rollout of essential infrastructure required to realise Europe’s digital ambitions. Over the last two decades, European telecom operators have seen an 80% decline in market value, while the broader internet ecosystem has flourished. This discrepancy underscores a dire need for renewed investment in network infrastructure, with an estimated additional €200 billion required to meet the Digital Decade connectivity targets by 2030.

A Manifesto for Europe’s Digital Future

In response to these challenges, the GSMA’s Industry Manifesto for Europe outlines a strategic vision for revitalizing mobile connectivity across the continent. Our manifesto calls for a comprehensive overhaul of existing policies to foster investment, innovation, and a truly unified market for telecom services.

Key policy recommendations:

  1. Reevaluation of Telecom Market Structure: Europe’s current market structure, fragmented among 100 operators serving across 27 member states, stifles the scale needed for global competitiveness. By revisiting merger regulations and promoting a flexible approach to competition policy, Europe can achieve the scale necessary for strategic autonomy and innovation.
  2. Pro-Investment Spectrum Policy: The current approach to spectrum policy, characterized by high auction costs, drains resources that could be directed towards infrastructure investment. A long-term and harmonized approach to spectrum licensing is essential to encourage significant investments and support a competitive future for Europe.
  3. Closing the Regulatory Gap: The digital ecosystem has evolved dramatically, with new players and technologies reshaping the landscape. Yet, regulation continues to disproportionately target traditional telecom operators. Addressing these regulatory asymmetries is crucial to ensure a level playing field across the digital value chain.
  4. Update Rules to Reflect the Current Reality: To bridge the investment gap and meet our digital objectives, Europe must adapt policy principles, that were initially established 20-30 years ago. This includes revisiting sector-specific rules to reflect current technological and economic realities and developing a holistic approach to overcome barriers to a single telecom market.

The Path Forward

The GSMA’s manifesto is not merely a set of recommendations but a blueprint for action. As we navigate the next legislative cycle, our collective effort and commitment to these principles will determine Europe’s place in the digital world. The time for action is now; we must seize this opportunity to shape a connected, competitive, and green future for Europe.

To our European policymakers, the message is clear: embracing these changes is imperative for Europe to harness the full potential of digital innovation and secure its sovereignty in the digital age. Let us come together to lay the groundwork for a future where Europe leads as a digital powerhouse on the global stage. The GSMA is committed to partnering with European institutions, industry stakeholders, and policymakers to make this vision a reality. The future is digital, and the future is ours to shape.

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