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Brussels stands firm on telecoms regulation

31 марта 2009

Europe’s top telecoms official has said the European Union won’t ease its stringent regulation of the sector despite its own figures showing the slowest growth rates in telecom revenues since 2003.

Viviane Reding, the EU telecoms commissioner, said regulation was if anything set to be stepped up to ensure incumbent players did not “squeeze out” newcomers during the downturn.

“The rules in telecoms are even more important during the crisis than they are in normal times,” she told the Financial Times. “They are competition rules and we must stick to them.”

Her comments come as Europe is considering a wholesale overhaul of telecoms regulation, with Ms Reding trying to convince the European Parliament and the EU’s 27 member states to devolve more powers to Brussels.

A new regulatory framework could see the Commission be given the authority to veto decisions made by national regulators should they fail to tackle its competition concerns.

Negotiations to be held late on Monday will also determine what shape a so-called “European super regulator” would take.

Despite Ms Reding claiming that the package was “95 per cent agreed” last week, EU working documents show many areas where parties remain far apart.

Among those is the investment framework for the upgrade of Europe’s broadband internet network, where an estimated €300bn is needed to replace copper-based infrastructure with fibre.

Incumbent operators have lobbied heavily for rules that would limit competitors’ access to the networks they build. Uncertainty over the conditions surrounding the new networks are holding back investment, they claim.

Ms Reding’s comments will dash industry hopes of a gentler touch in the downturn, despite the Commission’s own report on the state of European telecoms painting the bleakest picture in six years.

Revenue growth in 2008 is set to grow by an anaemic 1.3 per cent in 2008, barely faster than the bloc’s economic growth.

The institute compiling the figures has since revised the growth to a mere 0.5 per cent in 2008, and is predicting a contraction of 0.4 per cent in 2009.

Industry lobbyists have used the gloomy outlook to urge a slower implementation of Commission measures that would hurt revenue.

Earlier this week, the EU pushed through price caps on international data downloads, as well as further reducing lucrative “roaming” charges on calls, a market worth an estimated €8.5bn.

“Already before the current economic downturn, Europe’s telecoms sector has experienced a continual slowing down,” said Michael Bartholomew of Etno, a trade group. “These trends send a worrying message that cannot be ignored.”

Ms Reding also left open the possibility of an unprecedented third term as commissioner overseeing telecoms, an idea widely mooted by people close to her. A decision will be made later this year.

Her re-appointment would be met with despondency by the former monopolies she has tormented, and with glee from consumer groups and the smaller operators who have depended on her liberalising efforts for market access.

Источник: Financial Times

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