Europe

EU Agrees to Sweeping New Telecom Rules


A 'gentleman's agreement' on far-reaching changes to Europe's telecommunications sector between the three main institutions of the European Union was reached late on Monday, according to a spokesman for the European Commission.

"We have a draft deal that was concluded at a very late hour last night," telecoms spokesman Martin Selmyr told reporters on Tuesday (31 March).

"The commission is very confident that this draft deal will be voted as such in the parliament and [by member state diplomats]," he added.

The reform establishes an EU-level telecoms supervisor, the Body of European Regulators in Electronic Communications, or Berec, that moves away from the current consensus-based decision making in oversight of telecoms between national regulators, with majority rule being taken up.

However, the new agency will not, as telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding had hoped for, deliver a veto to the commission over decisions taken by national regulators in the event that they do not meet the EU executive's competition requirements.

Both the parliament and member states were opposed to such a move.

Instead the commission will be able to issue 'binding recommendations' so long as it has the backing of a majority within Berec. Without such a majority, the commission will only be able to issue non-binding recommendations.

The major telcos have been spared the splitting of their businesses into service delivery and network maintenance and development—a move known as 'functional separation'—as has already occurred in the UK—a structure the commission has held up as a model for the rest of Europe. Germany and Spain, home to incumbent giants Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom respectively, in particular did not favour such a development.

Rather, functional separation will be required only as an "extraordinary measure".

The agreement would also not require the competitors of the incumbent telcos to take part in the development of so-called next-generation networks, but would still be able to be charged a 'risk premium' to access these networks in order to balance the significant costs incurred by the bigger firms in their roll-out.

The deal comes after long-running informal talks between representatives of the commission, the European Parliament and the member states.

It must yet be ratified by the three parties, including a vote of the full sitting of the parliament, which is expected to take place some time in May.

Although a smaller, related package of issues concerning privacy and assuring universal service is still being navigated through the parliament by UK Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour, Mr Selmyr said: "On the big issues the deal was reached last night."

Provided by EUobserver—For the latest EU related news


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