The European Commission initiated legal action Thursday against 11 countries in the European Union for failing to ensure that their fixed and mobile operators offer caller location information for emergency services such as the police.
The move comes amid a broader crackdown on countries that have failed to adopt Union-wide laws for the telecommunication industry.
Greece, Ireland, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia have all failed to ensure that caller location information is available, the Commission said in a statement.
"The ability to locate emergency callers can save lives, and I urge the Member States to lose no more time in making the necessary changes, so that these proceedings and all other pending cases can be closed," said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding.
VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) is exempt from having to provide caller location information. "We are taking a light regulatory touch when it comes to VOIP to help get the new technology going in Europe," said Martin Selmayr, Reding's spokesman. But he added that eventually the rules requiring the service will include VOIP providers. "We will be looking at all telecoms rules later this year and this is one issue to be discussed," Selmayr said.
The expansion of caller location rules to include VOIP is unlikely to take affect before the end of the decade. "By the time the European Parliament and the national governments of the 25 Union member states had agreed on the move, and then the 25 countries transposed the rule into their national statute books it will be 2009 or 2010 before VOIP is affected," he said.
The Commission also started the second step in legal action against four countries: Belgium, Poland, Slovenia and France. Belgium and Poland have failed to notify the Commission about market reviews, which are needed to ascertain whether those markets are effectively competitive.
Slovenia does not force its telecoms operators to allow subscribers to keep their phone numbers if they move to a rival operator, as it should under Union-wide rules.
Meanwhile, France still insists that its incumbent operator, France Télécom SA, is the only company that can play the role of universal service provider in France. Universal services include phone lines to remote, unprofitable locations. Under E.U. rules a universal provider is entitled to financial help from the government and rival operators can be charged a tax to help cover the costs of this loss-making activity.
Hungary and Finland also restricted this role to their incumbent operators, but they are changing their rules to allow any operator to take on the role of universal service provider, so the Commission isn't pursuing legal action against them, Selmayr said.
So-called infringement procedures against countries breaching Union rules start with a formal warning, requiring a written response from the country involved. The second stage involves the sending of a letter, known as a reasoned opinion. If the problem still hasn't been addressed to the Commission's liking, it can then threaten to take countries to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
A detailed overview of the state of infringement proceedings in the telecom sector is available on the implementation and enforcement Web site of the Information Society and Media DG of the European Commission at http://europa.eu.int/information_society/policy/ecomm/implementation_enforcement/index_en.htm