The European Commission is calling for telecommunications operators to provide leased lines to retail service suppliers within a fixed deadline or face financial penalties. The move is designed to deal with delays faced by new operators in some member states, where receiving leased lines can take over seven times longer than in other states.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Commission, which oversees national telecoms regulators in all 25 European Union member states, said that binding delivery deadlines should be introduced for wholesale leased lines needed by suppliers of high-speed Internet access. It called for national regulatory authorities to ensure that fixed deadlines and penalties for not meeting them are included in wholesale leased line contracts offered by operators with significant market power to leased line retailers.

E.U. Information Society Commissioner Vivian Reding said: “This recommendation will boost competition to supply leased lines to retail buyers and improve the quality of the wholesale leased lines services”.

In a statement, the Commission said that new entrants to the leased line market complain that incumbent telecoms operators are much faster at providing leased lines to their own retail businesses than to competitors and the recommendation aims to deal with this problem.

The recommendation is being made to national regulators in the European Regulators Group. If the regulators do not follow the Commission’s guidelines, the Commission can threaten to introduce legally binding provisions at the E.U. level to force wholesale operators to comply.

In an analysis of the current market situation, the Commission found that for the market for 64Kbps lines, the longest wait at 85 days in Ireland was more than seven times longer than in the best performing country of Belgium at 12 days, compared to a recommended target of 18 days. In the market for 2Mbps unstructured leased lines only two member states, Belgium and Luxembourg, were providing access in less than the recommended 30 day limit. The worst offenders were in Ireland and Sweden where it could take around 90 days to get leased lines.

Sweden scored badly again on 2Mbps structured leased lines, taking around 94 days to provide retail suppliers while the Commission recommends a limit of 33 days. Again only two countries, Belgium and Portugal, met the Commission’s target, supplying lines within 16.5 and 20 days, respectively.

Leased lines are provided to companies by a telecoms operator and are needed by retail suppliers of Internet services and new operators to complete their own networks and to provide customers with value-added services such as high-speed Internet access.