European telco watchdogs plan greater unity

Telecoms regulators including Oftel want to streamline policy, but with the least interference from Brussels. Their solution? To get on the phone

In an attempt to stave off interference from the European Commission, telecoms regulators in individual European states are planning greater communication among themselves to ensure telecoms policies across member states are streamlined.

The EC had been pushing for greater powers to intervene in national watchdogs' policies and regulations, an idea that was universally rejected by the regulators. However, it seems the watchdogs do agree with the EC's basic idea; that policy across Europe needs to be standardised. As such they are preparing to push the discussion group -- called the Independent Regulators Group (IRG) -- as the appropriate forum for greater European cooperation.

At the last IRG meeting there were informal discussions according to UK watchdog Oftel. "We are looking at ways of exchanging best practices but there are no proposals for taking it forward," said an Oftel spokesman.

Oftel has found itself in a difficult position in recent years with some operators calling for less intervention and regulation and others demanding more. The mobile market is generally regarded as a successful example of competition and mobile operators are big fans of very light regulation. In the fixed line market on the other hand, in which competition has been less than successful and BT still controls around 80 percent of local lines, there is a great deal of pressure on Oftel to sort out problems that are holding back the development of Net services in the UK.

Ironically the watchdogs themselves are now threatened with interference -- from the Commission -- and the move to extend the powers of IRG is a reaction to this.

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