European Commission to enforce local loop access

The European Commission is poised to take legal action against member states whose former telecommunication monopolies have failed to open the local loop to competition, Erkki Liikanen, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, said on Thursday.

"There is no reason to delay," Liikanen said.

Earlier this week 13 telecommunication companies, including KPNQwest NV, Energis PLC and Worldcom Inc., wrote to the Commission complaining that incumbent telecommunication companies are failing to allow new entrants fair access to the telephone lines that lead directly to people's homes and to businesses.

The companies said in their letter that prices for access to the local loop varied across Europe by as much as 300 percent, and that delivery times were showing "extraordinary deterioration." For example, in Germany it can take up to nine months for a competitor to activate an ADSL (aynchronous digital subscriber line) connection for a customer, they said. They also said that in the U.K. competitor access is complicated by "exorbitant migration charges."

Liikanen acknowledged these complaints, saying that the problem is not only about anticompetitive pricing by the incumbents, but also the long delays they impose on leasing lines to competitors.

"Those countries that are slowest to liberalize (the telecommunication infrastructure) are paying high costs," Liikanen said. "Those countries also see lower Internet penetration."

The Commissioner would not divulge which member states were the worst offenders. He said that more details would be forthcoming next week when the Commission publishes its annual report on the process of telecommunication liberalization in the European Union (EU).

Liikanen said that high speed internet access across ADSL lines has developed during the year. "The incumbents have been very active in developing ADSL, but some competitors cannot get there."

The EU passed a law at the beginning of this year forcing member states to open up the local loop to competition.

"We can force member states to liberalize the last mile," he said.

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