EU telecom lobby group blasts regulatory laggards

Poland, the Czech Republic, Greece and Belgium have the worst telecommunications regulators in Europe

Poland, the Czech Republic, Greece and Belgium have the worst telecommunications regulators in Europe, according to a study carried out for the European Competitive Telecom Association (ECTA), an industry group that promotes the interests of new entrants into the market.

The annual study, available on ECTA's Web site, compares the telecom regulatory environment and the application of the current legislative framework in 19 European countries. Top of the class were the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and France.

"This year's results show that countries where regulators have taken action to enable competition to flourish, including the UK, Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, have seen strong performance in their telecom markets. However, others including Poland, the Czech Republic and Greece have fallen behind," ECTA said in a statement.

It added that "institutional weaknesses" may be preventing Germany, Belgium and Finland from reaching their full potential.

The study, dubbed the 2007 Scorecard, shows the impact of weak competition on consumers.

"If you are paying high prices for broadband, it may be because your regulator has not been able to open the market to competition," said Innocenzo Genna, chairman of ECTA, in prepared remarks at a conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

ECTA supports the European Commission's plans to change telecom rules. In particular, it backs moves to allow regulators the power to break up an incumbent operator if it isn't giving rival service providers fair access to the infrastructure, such as the "local loop" of telephone lines that lead directly into people's homes and offices.

Meanwhile, the Commission took Bulgaria to court on Wednesday for failing to police its telecom market "independently and effectively." Bulgaria joined the European Union at the beginning of this year, but it was supposed to have applied all the EU-wide rules concerning market access and fair competition in the telecom sector before its arrival.

Viviane Reding, commissioner for telecom at the European Commission, attended the ECTA's conference in Brussels. In her keynote speech she thanked ECTA for supporting the reforms she is trying to push through, but warned that it will be a "hard fight" ensuring that the changes she has proposed get adopted.

As well as proposing that functional separation should be introduced as a remedy to instill fair competition, she also called for the creation of an E.U.-wide telecom market authority, to ensure that all national regulators apply the same rules in all markets. Functional separation calls for operators to set up separate units to manage and sell network services.

"We shall have to fight hard in the coming months to ensure that this vision of a competitive single market for the telecom sector becomes a reality. I count on your continuing support," Reding said.

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