Lex AT&T? EU Commisson’s TTIP proposal to revise telecoms law
Monica Horten Published on 04 March 2014
Part 1 of a series of 3 postings on the leaked EU TTIP discussion document
The European Union could give away unlimited rights to foreign telecoms companies to buy up rivals in Europe as part of the proposed new transatlantic trade deal (TTIP). This is one of an astonishing set of proposals revealed in a Commission document leaked by the German newspaper Die Zeit last week. The leaked document further indicates a possible re-write of the EU telecoms framework, outlining a ‘mini’ version of the EU Telecoms Package for discussion.
The document made public by Zeit Online is a leaked European Commission proposal for ‘trade in services, investment and e-commerce’. The document is intended to provide the basis for discussion in the negotiations with the United States over the trade agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Buried within this document, barely attracting any notice unless one is familiar with EU telecoms law, is a series of Articles that mimic the structure of the EU Telecoms Package. They address regulatory structures and powers (Framework directive), authorisation, access and interconnection, (as per directives of the same name - to find out more about them see my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma Internet Politics and the Telecoms Package.
Without a full analysis that would take a considerable time to carry out, it is unclear what the precise implications of these proposals would be. But it would seem that they form the skeleton of a re-work of the current law.
This trade agreement therefore, is not just about import-export, but it concerns, at least in part, the re-writing of laws for telecoms service provision. In that regard, it’s also about re-writing laws for the Internet.
We know that the EU telecoms framework governs Internet service providers, and hence it governs the Internet in Europe. Based on the 2009 Telecoms Package, and the current proposal for a Telecoms Regulation (Connected Continent), we know how telecoms law can be manipulated to serve large corporate interests not only in the telecoms industry itself, but in other industries such as entertainment.
We assume that the re-write will have to suit the US industry interests who will be lobbying the US Trade Representative ( to find out how they lobby, see A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms chapter 3).
Sitting quietly veiled and peeping out of this structure is a new bombshell. It concerns foreign investment in the telecoms infrastructure.
Article 50: Foreign shareholding
With regard to the provision of electronic communication services and networks through commercial presence, no Party shall impose joint venture requirements or limit the participation of foreign capital in terms of maximum percentage limit on foreign shareholding or the total value of individual or aggregate foreign investment.
There is no such provision that I can find in the current telecoms framework, and one has to ask why it would be needed under the TTIP trade agreement?
If I understand it correctly, it is seeking to open up investment in EU telecoms companies, by removing any limits on the level of investment.
In other words, this TTIP proposal would permit US companies to invest in EU telecoms providers without limiting the share they may take. It could allow a free rein to US telecoms companies operating in Europe.
It is public knowledge that AT&T wanted to buy Vodafone, although it has backed off for the moment, following the NSA scandal and the lack of trust in US companies which would make it less likely for such a deal to be approved.
It is unclear is whether this clause in TTIP would make any difference to a company like AT&T investing in European telecoms, and in what way?
More transparency is needed on TTIP process, and in particular, details of why it is necessary to use this process to re-work the Telecoms Package behind closed doors. Most especially because MEPs in the European Parliament are about to vote on a related European Commission proposal - the Telecoms Regulation or Proposal for a Connected Continent. If – and it’s still an ‘if’ - the Connected Continent is voted – how would the TTIP proposal fit with it and would it seek to override it?