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EC urges regulators to get tough with mobile networks

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In a bid designed to ratchet up telecom regulation from Brussels, the European Commission encouraged national regulators to impose new rules on mobile operators.

Of the 18 market segments named by the European Commission where national regulators have been encouraged to intervene, a suggestion to further regulate the mobile sector could be the most contentious. Specifically, the EC said that EU telecoms regulators would be encouraged to impose restrictions on international roaming and call origination and termination costs.

"The message that we want to send to the market today is our desire to promote and secure investment in networks and technologies," said Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen in a statement.

It was only weeks ago that Oftel in the UK imposed restrictions on the price of fixed-to-mobile calls in an attempt to regulate so-called mobile termination costs. The long awaited move sent operators there into fits, with Vodafone threatening legal action and O2 claiming it would be forced to delay the launch of high-speed services. Other operators said the price of handsets would rise.

This UK response could be a prelude to a Europe-wide attempt to cut termination and roaming charges. For its part, ComReg in Ireland has said that it is unlikely to follow Oftel's move, because Irish prices are already among the lowest in the EU.

All of the remaining new proposals, which primarily focused on fixed-line services, were unveiled on Wednesday by Liikanen and EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti after the two resolved a last-minute dispute over rules to govern high-speed fixed line data services. It is thought that of the two men, Liikanen had been calling for stronger proposals that could have seen a push from Brussels to impose price caps on broadband. However Monti reportedly watered down such plans.

The new strategy from Brussels, which will gain new powers to overrule national authorities from July, includes a litany of suggestions to increase fixed-line broadband rollout in Europe. The commissioners said that measures beyond what currently exists were needed to guide national regulators while the industry matures. They also said that ultimately the new legislation would mean less regulation, not more.

"We cannot continue to think in the traditional way of each network having its own set of rules," the Commission said, claiming that its new scheme would create a greater level of uniformity in the way telecoms are regulated across the EU. "The new framework addresses markets, not networks, and it does so in a technologically neutral manner based on competition law."

"The principle of technological neutrality that underpins the new framework means that new investment serves to bring forward the day when regulatory obligations can be relaxed." The Commission continued, "The aim is to remove regulation where possible and to allow the normal market forces to work freely subject to some social criteria (eg universal service safeguards) and respect for competition law." © ENN

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