EC takes action against telecom regulators

The European Commission said late Wednesday it has begun legal proceedings against five member states for not liberalizing the local loop in their telecommunication networks.

France, Ireland, the Netherlands — and for the second time, Germany and Portugal — have all been accused of breaking the 15-month old European Union law commanding member states to unbundle the local loop. The local loop, otherwise known as the “last mile,” is a common term for the part of the telephone network that connects individual users to telecom companies’ central offices.

The Commission said in a statement that the action is being taken because national telecom regulators in the five countries are failing to prevent the incumbent operators from putting up obstacles to local loop competitors. The Commission is the executive body of the European Union. It has the power to fine member states for failing to comply with EU law.

The local loop should be “sufficiently unbundled to allow competitors to pay just for what they require, and must provide in particular a breakdown of costs for the sub-loop so that an operator can install equipment closer to customers’ premises than the local exchange,” the Commission said in a statement.

Unbundling is a process whereby incumbent operators allow competitors to service individual customers on the local loop.

These proceedings follow the action taken in December 2001 against Germany, Portugal and Greece concerning shared access to the local loop, at which time the Commission made it clear that further legal action could be taken.

Two of the member states implicated in December, Portugal and Greece, have already remedied the problem, and the Commission said today it is closing these two cases.

Germany has also recently reported positive steps to remedy the situation, and the Commission said it will consider closing that case too.

“The action we have already taken has had immediate results, and I hope that national authorities can move quickly to overcome the problems that we are addressing in this latest decision on unbundling,” said Erkki Liikanen, commissioner for enterprise and the information society.

“Regulators and operators have had time to implement the requirements of the EU Regulation, and there can be no more delays in opening up the local access market to competition,” Liikanen said.