European politicians question proposed telecom regulation

BRUSSELS – A European Commission plan to increase competition in telecommunications have been attacked by the industry committee of the European Parliament.

The planned reforms, known collectively as the “telecoms review,” are designed to increase choice and lower costs for consumers.

But parliamentary committee members from across the political spectrum raised a red flag this week over two key, and much-debated, aspects of the review: plans to create a pan-European Union regulator and to force a functional separation of services from former telecommunications monopolies.

The parliamentary committee described Tuesday’s session as a preliminary exchange of views. However, if the Commission does not address the parliamentary concerns, the committee could push for changes to the planned reforms.

Several members of the committee questioned whether a supranational regulator, dubbed the European Electronic Communications Market Authority (EECMA), is necessary.

“Who is guaranteeing the independence of the new agency?” asked Pilar del Castillo, of Spain’s conservative People’s Party.

French Socialist Catherine Trautmann asked how the Commission would deal with possible conflicts between national regulators and the new agency. Trautmann is the committee’s rapporteur on the telecom review, which means that she will lead the debate in the committee.

Alexander Alvaro, a German Liberal, questioned the Commission’s plan to make the EECMA responsible for the functions of the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), an E.U. body in charge of network security, as well as much of the work of the national telecom regulators. “I’m not sure whether this would lock two different species into one cage,” Alvaro said.

The Commission believes functional separation — the splitting of telecom infrastructure and networks from services — is a necessary weapon to use against former national monopolies that continue to obstruct fair competition in the services sector.

“Functional separation tries to achieve an equivalence of access,” Fabio Colasanti, the Commission’s director general in charge of telecom, told parliamentary committee members. He added that the Commission wants to “re-establish the equality of opportunity” among service providers.

However, many committee members appeared skeptical and were concerned about the costs and benefits of functional separation.

Several other committees will also assess the planned changes. The parliament as a whole has the power to block the proposals, as do the 27 national governments of the E.U. However, a vote on the telecom review by the parliament remains a long way off. Telecom Commissioner Viviane Reding, architect of the proposed changes, expects the review to become law in 2009.

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