EU telecoms regulators seek rules overhaul


BRUSSELS -- European telecoms regulators at a meeting here Friday gave their backing to an overhaul of regulations that seeks tougher supervision of European markets, and aims to boost competition for entertainment services through cable, broadband and mobile TV.

The European Regulators' Group (ERG) -- with representatives from each of the EU's 27 member states -- said it supported calls by the European Commission to give teeth to the telecoms watchdog.

EU media and information technology commissioner Viviane Reding earlier told the ERG that if new services like mobile TV and broadband were to flourish, then the regulators had to ensure that telecoms markets in individual EU members remained truly open and competitive. "In spite of its merits, the EU regulatory framework has failed to deliver," she said "There is a fragmentation of regulation across the 27 member states, lack of independent regulators, sometimes also a lack of properly resourced regulators, delays in applying remedies, as well as problems caused by inefficient remedies."

The ERG agreed to reform its internal structures and create "an institutional framework which has at its core a strengthened network of independent national regulators." This would enter into force in 2009-10, but within the next few months it will set up a permanent secretariat in Brussels.

Reding will formally unveil proposals to overhaul the telecoms market regulatory structure in July. She has long been frustrated by foot-dragging by individual EU governments that are reluctant to allow new Internet, cable and telephone rivals to compete against their former state-owned monopolies.

Reding said this protection has delayed the onset of "triple play" and held back the development of new entertainment services. This was especially important, she said, as former state telecoms monopolies today earn between 5% and 27% of their income from European business outside their home country.

The reform of the regulatory structure is considered the key to opening the market. Bolstering the ERG was one of Reding's suggestions to deal with the problem, but she also threatened a more radical option of a single regulator like the European Central Bank that would work alongside the commission. "Be it enhanced commission powers, an 'ERG with teeth,' or a combination of both -- it should be capable of making ex ante-regulation practically superfluous by 2018 at the latest," she said.

One of the main problems of the ERG is that its decisions require a unanimous vote, which means that any one government can hold out against all the other regulators. Reding told the meeting that the ERG had to switch to a majority vote. "There is only one element that is non-negotiable for the commission," she said. "Whatever system is found for regulating better, more effectively and more consistently in the telecom sector, must be a system based on the 'community' method. This means first of all that decisions taken at European level should be taken as a rule by majority, to avoid the danger of a lowest common denominator approach. This means also that decisions taken at European level must be capable of being enforced throughout the 27 member states."