EU changing rules over high-def TV

Commission orders telecoms to open cable ducts to rivals

BRUSSELS -- High-definition television will be delivered more easily and cheaply over high-speed broadband under plans unveiled Thursday to revolutionize EU cable rules.

The European Commission said telecom operators must open their cable ducts to rivals, a move that should pave the way for a plethora of new services over the so-called Next Generation Access broadband.

Most broadband is provided over the same copper wires used since the telephone was invented in the 19th century. But NGA fiber-optic networks are needed for high-definition content such as HDTV, online gaming and interactive applications. Management consulting firm McKinsey estimates the investment required to replace Europe's networks at $430 billion.

The commission said it wants to encourage this investment and warns that Europe is lagging behind the U.S. and Asian rivals in laying down NGA fiber. But it does not want to create network monopolies by operators that stifle emerging services.

The commission's plans still need to complete the EU's long decision-making and consultation process and will be formally adopted next year.

Big operators such as France Telecom, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom have opposed immediate "unbundling" or access to their fiber networks for new entrants, saying it could threaten the viability of their heavy and risky investments.