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French telecoms chief says 'non' to EU-wide regulation

Super regulator will be 'costly and pointless'

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EU commissioner Viviane Reding's plan to create an EU-wide telecoms "super regulator" has been attacked as being costly and pointless.

Paul Champsaur, head of French telecoms regulator ARCEP, spoke out against a European Telecom Market Authority (ETMA) in the French press yesterday, saying the plan also sends a message to the telecoms industry that the EU wants more regulation, rather than less.

Reding's plans were announced last November. A spokesman for the commissioner denied that the plans constitute a "super regulator", but it's hard to see the proposal as anything else.

There is an argument for cross-EU licensing of frequencies; to allow roaming and increase the addressable market as worked so effectively for GSM. But many (including UK regulator Ofcom) believe GSM was a lucky break and that regulators are generally very bad at predicting what the market wants. They would prefer to leave such decisions to market forces.

Handing control over to a central authority could see regional regulators legislated out of existence, but (perhaps more importantly) it would also let the EU ethos drive frequency allocations: such as Reding's preference for reserving frequency for DVB-H broadcasts despite the unproven technology or market.

ARCEP has, meanwhile, launched a website where interested users can type in a frequency and see what it's being used for - in France at least. When, or if, Ofcom will ever offer an equivalent service for the UK remains to be seen, but the disparity highlights the problems of having regional regulators with their own agendas and priorities.

The battle between regional regulators and the EU might seem to be about political power, but it's as much about ideological control of the airwaves that are supposed to belong to us. ®

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