Incumbents warn proposed amendments to Electronic Communications Code, ePrivacy Regulation put network investment at risk.

Some of Europe’s biggest telcos this week warned the European Commission that proposed amendments to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) and ePrivacy Regulation could put future investment at risk.

A letter sent to the Commission on Thursday expressed dismay at the possibility of the EU abandoning plans to ease access obligations for wholesale-only players and operators that jointly invest in new networks. It also urged the Commission to stay the course when it comes to overhauling spectrum licensing rules.

The letter, seen by Total Telecom, was signed by the CEOs of several incumbents, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, KPN, Orange, Proximus, Telecom Italia, Telekom Austria, Telia, Telenor, and Telefonica, among others.

"The initial strategic focus on investment and innovation appears lost and current developments risk hampering the ability of companies to deliver for European citizens and businesses," the telcos said. "We believe that growth, employment, investment and contribution to taxation are at stake."

In September, the Commission unveiled the ECC, a sweeping reform package designed to stimulate investment in ultrafast broadband networks by taking a pragmatic approach to regulation, promoting intervention only in cases where competition and choice are lacking.

As well as easing access obligations, the ECC also proposes 25-year spectrum licences, and strict rules requiring the effective and efficient use of airwaves.

The proposals were welcomed by telcos, which have long-campaigned for regulations to be relaxed, which they argue would free up more capital to invest in networks.

However, the rules have met with opposition in the European Parliament.

Some member states have expressed concern that deregulation will harm competition. Others have reportedly warned that 25-year spectrum licences will make it harder for frequency allocation to keep pace with advances in technology.

In the operators’ letter this week, which was delivered by telco lobby group ETNO, the signatories claimed that other regions are out-investing Europe in networks by a ratio two-to-one. Growth in digital services in Europe remains flat, they added, whereas North America and Asia are seeing "strongly positive" trends.

"This should be a reason for alarm and action, especially in the context of global competition and fast-paced technological change," the telcos said. "The EU should focus on the strategic objective of achieving ubiquitous superfast connectivity and ensuring that nobody is left behind."

This will require investment of up to €660 billion, they said, which "is incompatible with any rules extracting value from the sector."

On the subject of spectrum, the telcos said that longer licence duration will ensure predictability for long-term investments as well as fair and predictable licence conditions.

Meanwhile, in order to support the growth of digital services, the telcos called on the Commission not to over-regulate services and privacy, and to ensure there is no overlap between general data and consumer protection rules.

"Consumers deserve both a clear and meaningful rulebook, and a digital marketplace that allows more innovation and competition," the telcos said.