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Brussels asks Ofcom boss what he's on about

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The European Commission has publicly questioned whether the UK's top telecoms regulator has any idea what he's talking about when it comes to, er, telecoms regulation.

In a reponse to Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards' letter to the Financial Times today, the commission said: "We note that Mr Richards takes position against a 'central European telecoms regulator'. In this respect, we really wonder what Mr Richards is talking about."

Oooh, get back in the knife drawer.

Ofcom lashed out in fear the EU will encroach on its UK regulatory turf. Richards warned that a Europe-wide telecoms overseer would stifle market liberalisation efforts.

Viviane Reding, the Luxembourgish information society and media commissioner, will publish plans to reform European telecoms next month. A draft doing the rounds in Brussels proposes a new body that would assume powers currently exercised by national watchdogs.

Richards, funnily enough, favours alternative reforms that would strengthen domestic powers. He wrote today: "The commission, it is said, favours a significant increase in its own powers to determine national regulatory remedies, supported by a new EU-funded super-regulator.

"However, a centralisation of power to Brussels, plus a new European bureaucracy, is not the answer. Harmonisation of regulation works only when it respects the need for national regulators to respond to conditions in their markets."

The commission snapped back: "First of all, Mr Richards does not need to worry: no body in the commission plans to question the existence of Ofcom, the British telecom regulator with its 800 employees.

"Europe is needed in telecoms to change the attitude of national telecom regulators, including Ofcom, to broaden their horizon to better deal with the evolving pan-European telecom market in the interest of fair cross-border competition and in the interest of Europe's consumers. This cannot be done by national regulators. This cannot be done by Ofcom alone."

Richards cites the forthcoming radio spectrum carve-up as a key battleground. He wrote: "The market, not officials, should identify the best uses for this resource. This would stimulate competition across all European markets, while still allowing states to accommodate issues of public interest."

Reding's proposals would need the green light from the majority of member states, plus ratification by the EU parliament to come into effect no earlier than 2009. ®

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