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EC calls for shorter number-porting times

Switching phone operator should take no longer than a day, as different porting times distort competition, telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding has declared
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

It should take no longer than a day to switch telephone operators, the European Commission has said.

Telecommunications and IT commissioner Viviane Reding said in a video address on Monday that it currently takes too long in some European countries to switch operator without changing telephone numbers. She singled out Poland (where the process takes 38 days) and Italy (where it takes 15 days) as countries where changing provider takes a particularly long time.

"This is an intolerable situation," Reding said. "It distorts competition between operators in Europe's borderless single market and puts citizens in countries with less effective consumer rules at a disadvantage. Therefore, I want all Europeans to be able to switch their phone operator — whether mobile or fixed — within one single day, as it is already the case in Ireland and in Malta."

In the UK, changing mobile-phone operator currently takes around two days. The regulator Ofcom has already expressed a desire to shorten this time, and in 2007 it proposed a common industry database that it said would speed up the porting process. However, last year the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) decided Ofcom had incorrectly costed its proposals.

Following the CAT's adjudication, an operator industry group called UKPorting, which was set up under the auspices of Ofcom in order to speed up the porting of phone numbers between operators, voted in September to abandon its work.

In her address on Monday, Reding said she would discuss the matter of faster number porting "very seriously" with the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers.

"In these times of economic crisis, Europe should ask itself what we can do to empower our consumers in the telecoms markets to strengthen fair competition and the purchasing power of our citizens — and how we can do this fast," Reding said.

The number-porting issue is part of the so-called Telecoms Package that is currently being steered through the European Parliament. Other elements of the legislation bundle include proposed caps on the amount operators can charge European citizens for text-message and mobile-data use while travelling across member states.

A report on the package's progress is expected to be released on Wednesday.

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