Critiques greet EC wiring plan


The European Commission's promise of better and cheaper telecom services — from mobile phones to faster Internet technology and cable television — is being greeted with a mixed welcome throughout Europe.

Cable operators, regulators, operators, Euro-MPs and consumer groups were cautious about the proposals unveiled Tuesday by the commission that are designed to open up Europe's electronics communications sector and create a single market of 500 million consumers.

The proposals include setting up a European Telecom Market Authority to streamline communication services across the 27 EU countries. The commission hopes the measures, which require approval from EU governments and the European Parliament, will become law by 2010.

Cable Europe, the European cable operators' association, backed the commission's plans to increase the efficiency of radio spectrum management as the digital switchover got under way. But the group was more wary about plans allowing EU governments to force telecom operators to split their network and business activities — known as "functional separation" — and also questioned the need to create a pan-European regulatory body for the telecom industry.

The European Regulators' Group — which faces a radical shake-up under the plans — said it supports proposals to boost regulators' enforcement powers. But it warned that the commission was seeking to centralize powers and undermine the very independence it aimed to protect.

"The commission's proposals for a new institutional setup appear at first sight not to be in line with the evolution of the cooperation among regulators toward a federal and non-bureaucratic model," the ERG said.

The European Competitive Telecoms Assn., which brings together new, market-entrant telecoms operators, said the proposals will result in tangible growth in investment and competition in high-speed broadband.

"The proposed framework provides the tools to ensure the smooth rollout of Next Generation Networks, and the sharing of the substantial costs required to deliver them," ECTA chairman Innocenzo Genna said.

The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Assn., which encompasses former state-owned telecom monopolies including Deutsche Telekom and Spain's Telefonica, said the move to allocate radio spectrum for new services could boost new services and stimulate wireless broadband.

But ETNO director Michael Bartholomew said that forcing operators to split networks and business activities "would result in increased costs for access and less investment in new and alternative networks."

A spokesman for Deutsche Telekom was more critical: "The commission's proposals will lead (to) the cessation of millions of euros of investment," he said.