The European Commission yesterday announced plans to replace sector specific regulation of media, telecoms and the internet with a single set of rules covering all forms of electronic communication.

The "technology neutral" rules are intended to increase competition and to stimulate affordable high-speed internet access. Although the EU's telecoms markets were liberalised in January 1998, competition in local markets remains limited. Since then access to the internet and the introduction of broadband services have become major sources of friction between phone and cable operators. "Convergence between telecommunications, information technology and media and the emergence of the internet mean that the same services can be delivered over a variety of platforms and received via a range of terminals," said the Commission.

The overhaul follows two years of consultation between the industry, the Commission and the European Parliament. Specifics include:

  • liberalisation of the "local loop" or the last mile between households or businesses and telecoms backbones.
  • Flexibility that allows the legislation to evolve with technology.
  • Simplification and harmonisation of rules at European, rather than national level.
  • Redefinition of the notion of significant market power in line with EC competition law concept of dominance.
  • The Commission said that the new rules will replace 28 pieces of existing legislation with just eight and that it hopes to have the regulations in place by the beginning of 2002. "We need to act at internet speed," said Erkki Liikanen, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society.

    Industry response was positive. Manuel Kohnstamm, managing director of corporate affairs at Dutch cable giant UPC, said: "This is an impressive achievement in regulatory modernisation. The proposals formulate newly harmonised European rules on such areas as network access, licensing and must carry regulation." He added: "We invite the Commission to secure fair competition by applying competition law rather than sector specific regulation."

    (For background see Screen International July 14, page 12)