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Maximum fine raised to £2m for telcos that don't cough up network data

Ofcom lays down the law

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Ofcom can fine telecoms companies up to £2m for failing to hand over information about their networks, the media regulator has said.

The government raised the maximum fine Ofcom could issue from a previous level of £50,000 following changes to the EU Authorisation Directive, Ofcom said in a statement.

"The government has increased to the level of fine that Ofcom can impose for failure to comply with an information gathering request. This has been increased from £50,000 to £2m," Ofcom said in its statement (24-page/160KB PDF).

The Authorisation Directive was altered as part of a wider Telecoms Package of reforms that were set out by European lawmakers in 2009.

The Directive gives national regulatory authorities (NRAs) the power to force telecoms companies to provide them with information about their networks, such as how much the companies spend maintaining them and the level of consumer usage.

NRAs, such as Ofcom in the UK, need this information to make informed decisions about what it is reasonable to charge customers to use networks, a spokeswoman for Ofcom said. Ofcom will only impose fines on companies that do not comply with information gathering requests on a formal basis, the spokeswoman said. Ofcom predominantly engages with firms in an informal capacity, she said.

Ofcom announced the change in a statement which also detailed guidance on new rules on how the regulator will handle the resolution of disputes over communications.

A number of measures, such as setting up meetings between companies in dispute to clarify the scope of disputes, were announced in the new guide.

Ofcom can now claim costs from companies that ask it to resolve disputes, the guide said.

The new rules place no duty on Ofcom to resolve network access disputes, the statement said. Ofcom can intervene at its own discretion, the dispute resolution guide said.

"Ofcom has discretion whether to decide that it is appropriate for it to handle the dispute," Ofcom said in its guide to the new rules (36-page/284KB PDF).

"In exercising that discretion, Ofcom may in particular take into account its priorities and available resources at the time," the guide said.

NRAs must work together to help resolve cross-border disputes, the guide said.

"Where Ofcom considers that a dispute ... relates partly to a matter falling within the jurisdiction of the NRA(s) of other Member States (ie, because it relates to activities carried on by one or more parties in more than one Member State), Ofcom must coordinate its work with those NRA(s)," Ofcom's dispute resolution guide said.

"Ofcom may also consult the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) in order to ensure a consistent resolution of the dispute, and may ask BEREC for an opinion as to the action to be taken to resolve the dispute," the guide said.

"Where Ofcom (or another NRA) requests an opinion from BEREC in relation to the dispute, Ofcom must take account of BEREC's opinion when it resolves the dispute," the guide said.

"We believe the changes set out ... will simplify the dispute resolution process, provide greater transparency in our handling and resolution of regulatory disputes, and make them more efficient and effective for both the parties concerned and Ofcom," Ofcom said in a summary of its statement.

The changes came into effect on 26 May and have been introduced in order to comply with the EU's Telecoms Package of reforms.

The reforms were passed in late 2009 after legislative wrangling between the European Commission, which wanted more centralised regulation of telecoms, and the European Parliament, which wanted nations to retain regulatory powers.

A compromise was reached by which national regulators will engage in closer co-operation on pan-EU regulation, but by which no central regulator independent of member states will be set up.

The revised EU rules require countries to enable telecoms regulators to force more sharing of telecoms infrastructure.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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