Telcos: forget 'original sin'

Former telco monopolies protest new proposed regulations are based on obsolete assumptions

Europe's incumbent telecommunications operators have reacted angrily to plans for a shake-up of telecom rules at a public hearing in Brussels Wednesday.

The European Commission set up the unprecedented two day hearing in advance of formally submitting five new directives on electronic communications to the European Parliament in June. If the plans are approved by the European Parliament they will be introduced across the EU.

The first of these, discussed this morning, is seen by experts as a wake-up call to telecom watchdogs like Oftel to get their act together, but incumbent telcos see the proposed legislation as unfair.

The representative of Telecom Italia set the tone of the hearing, claiming the Commission was blaming incumbent operators for the sins of the past. "How long do we have to pay for the past?" he asked. "There is a notion of original sin that affects every incumbent in Europe."

The head of the regulatory framework committee Jean de Cockborn, presiding over the debate, advised him to play on his country's strong religious links. "Use the direct line," he quipped.

Portugal Telecom agreed that it is time the history of monopoly was forgotten. "Declaring the incumbents as having a dominant position is based on a historical assumption. It is imposing obligations on the incumbents and excluding new entrants from such obligations," he said, accusing the Commission of imposing regulation of individual member states and "increasing the burden on operators and consumers."

Deutsche Telekom's spokeswoman claimed the telco was not one hundred percent happy with the proposals, questioning how the Commission intends to define "effective competition". Under the new rules it is intended to ease off regulation in areas considered to be already governed effectively by competition.

Incumbents should be increasingly regulated by existing competition laws rather than by special regulatory bodies, argued France Telecom's representative. "We have the feeling some are suffering more than others," he said

Spain's leading telephone operator, Telefonica accused the European Commission of failing "to create a level playing field... It is trying to regulate the incumbents and not the market," he said. "But barriers are barriers independent of the history of a particular company."

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