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MEPs give Reding bloody nose over telco regulation

Telecoms revolution reduced to talking shop

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Viviane Reding's plans to revolutionise telecommunications with pan-European spectrum allocations and a new regulator have been reduced to a new talking shop to be known as BERT.

The original proposals have suffered more than a thousand amendments from MEPs on the Telecoms Industry Committee, and been reduced to 33 points that largely reflect what UK regulator Ofcom had in mind all along.

Instead of an all-powerful EU regulator which would be able to override local regulators and allocate spectrum under the noses of member governments, we have the "Body of European Regulators in Telecommunications" - BERT. Membership of BERT will be restricted to the head of each national regulator, and in theory BERT will review all regulatory changes made across Europe, but it's going to be about ensuring compatibility rather than imposing changes on the industry.

Proposals which were approved include broad support for technology-neutral licensing, so companies buying spectrum can do what they like with it, and generic calls for "a more coherent approach" to the digital dividend - which is worthless without specifics.

Reding did snatch one victory: countries will be able to force companies to split network and content provision in exceptional circumstances and with BERT's approval. This is what happened to BT in the UK, where the incumbent operator is forced to allow other companies access to its infrastructure, but even now that it's allowed across Europe it's considered an extreme measure.

BERT will be one-third funded with EU gravy - the rest coming from the member regulators - and will have its remit re-examined in 2014. By that time Ofcom, and anyone else who wants to, will have most of the electromagnetic spectrum firmly in private hands - safely guarded from EU meddling. ®

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