EU warns 11 nations over telco regulation

New Zealand wouldn't pass, either

The European Commission, the European Union's overall telecomms regulator, launched its latest bid to get its member states to ensure fair competition in the telco sector.

New Zealand also would not make the grade on some of the points the Commission is raising with its member states.

The Commission sent letters to 11 of the bloc's 25 member states, warning them that unless they take action to properly police their telco sectors, it may have to take them before the European Court of Justice, which could levy large fines on each government until they address the failings.

The letters were addressed to the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Finland.

Most of the letters concern failure to offer number portability, which acts as a disincentive for users to switch operators. This was the case for the Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland and Slovenia.

The chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ), Ernie Newman, says while New Zealand telcos are working on the issue of number portability it has yet to be delivered.

"Without number portability there can be no competition in the New Zealand market. It's that simple."

Another problem is that some countries are not offering a comprehensive printed directory for fixed and mobile phone users or a directory inquiries service for fixed and mobile users. This would put customers of mobile operators, especially businesses, at a disadvantage if their numbers could not be looked up easily. The Commission warned the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Slovakia for failing on this point.

In New Zealand, Newman says while cellphone numbers can be listed in the White Pages and directory assistance, users have to request the service rather than having it done automatically. Telecom charges customers $24.30 for each entry in addition to their initial phone number. Non-Telecom landline operators, such as Wired Country, do have their customers' phone numbers listed in the White Pages.

Finland was told that its telecom regulator is not sufficiently independent of the government ministry, which defines the markets for regulation but also controls state ownership of some operators.

Poland was told it must ensure that the EU-wide emergency services number "112" works properly on its territory.

The member states concerned now have two months to respond to the Commission's concerns. The Commission will then examine their answers to see if the failings have been addressed. But Poland and Latvia have received final warnings and face challenges in the European Court of Justice if they do not make the necessary changes. The Court can fine member states that fail to comply with the Commission's demands.

The Commission is still assessing responses to warning letters sent to other member states including Germany, the EU's biggest telephone market, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal.

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