Greece facing EC crackdown

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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission is taking Greece to court for failing to open up its digital television and radio markets -- and is seeking fines of as much as €42,310 ($56,535) a day.

The EC told Athens that it was the only European Union member country that had failed to implement the measures into domestic legislation.

"In the absence of a national regulatory framework for broadcasting transmission services, companies will not invest in Greece, in particular in digital broadcasting," EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said. "Open and nondiscriminatory access for broadcasters to these services is essential for the development and consolidation of digital broadcasting. For too long now, Greek consumers have been deprived of the benefits the digital economy is expected to bring about."

The EU's 27 member states were supposed to adopt and implement a 2002 electronic communications directive by July 2003, but Greece is still holding out. The law requires EU governments to open up their telecom markets, allowing new businesses to compete for Internet, phone and broadcasting services with former state telecoms monopolies.

However, the Greek government's version -- which was finally unveiled in February 2006 -- explicitly excludes broadcasting transmission services.

An earlier case at the European Court of Justice in April 2005 upheld the EC's complaints against the Greek stalling, but new rules confirmed last year mean that governments that fail to comply with EU laws can be fined more easily.

The second referral to the ECJ comes with a request for daily fines. If Greece fails to comply, it will be fined €6,132 ($8,194) per day for the continuing infringement until the court rules again. After this, Greece will face a daily penalty of €42,310, starting on the date of the second judgment until full compliance is reached.

The slow pace of the Greek government to address the issue has ensured the country has only a handful of telephone firms and broadband Internet services to choose from. Only 1% of Greek homes have retail broadband, one of the lowest rates in the EU.
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