E.U. threatens legal action over IT regulation

The European Commission is planning to warn eight European Union (E.U.) member states to bring their regulatory regimes for electronic communications into line with common standards or face legal action in the Court of Justice, it said on Monday. It also stated that within days a group of 25 national regulators would announce coordinated action to tackle excessive roaming charges for mobile phones.

Vivian Reding, Information Society Commissioner, said on Monday that the Commission was preparing to launch infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic and Estonia because they had not adopted the necessary national legislation for regulating the IT sector. Legal action was also being prepared against Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia for not having adopted appropriate secondary legislation, she said.

The commissioner, who was speaking at a press conference to present the Commission’s 10th annual report on “European electronic communications regulations and markets,” said that several member states failed to set up effective regulators for the sector, a key requirement of the legislative package, and this became a major problem.

“The Commission has concerns that full independence (of national regulatory authorities) has not been achieved”, Reding said, adding that some authorities never conducted the market analyses that were a core part of their function.

The Commissioner was reacting to member states’ performance in implementing the E.U. regulatory framework for electronic communications, which covers fixed and mobile telecommunications. This framework had to be in place by July 24, 2003 for the then 15 E.U. member states, and by May 1, 2004 for the 10 countries that joined the Union on that date.

The Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, already started proceedings in the Court of Justice against Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg for failings on primary legislation and against Spain and France for secondary legislation.

Under the package of measures, member states are required to establish independent regulatory authorities for the sector. These bodies are expected to carry out market analyses to ascertain if there is free competition in key segments and propose legislative changes to promote a competitive market.

Under E.U.’s infringement procedures, if the Commission identifies a problem it sends the member state a warning letter. If after a certain period, the member state does not rectify the problem the Commission can start an action in the Court of Justice. If the Court upholds the Commission’s view it can impose fines on the member state on daily basis until it brings its legislation into line with E.U. requirements.

Commissioner Reding also said that over the next week the European Regulators Group (ERG), a body of 25 national telecom regulators, would announce measures to deal with mobile operators’ high roaming charges (where an additional charge is levied using a mobile network outside the operators’ home market).

“This is urgent because we know that prices are outrageously high,” she said, adding that the Commission will reveal its plan after the ERG’s announcement. Reding declined to comment further on the issue, however.

The commissioner also said that the costs of making calls from fixed lines to mobile networks were too high and that “much work needed to be done in this area.”