LONDON National telecoms regulators in Europe have started flexing their muscles about plans by the European Commission to shake up the regulatory framework and setting up a pan-European watchdog.
Writing in the Financial Times Wednesday (Oct. 31) Ed Richards, head of the U.K's telecoms and broadcasting regulator Ofcom, warns the plans risk undermining national watchdogs and creating an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy in Brussels.
Richards is also concerned the Commission, as part of a revised EU framework on telecoms regulation , could end up with the power to veto certain liberalization measures put forward by national watchdogs.
Viviane Reding, the European commissioner responsible for telecoms, is due to outline plans to reform the EU telecoms framework next month, but a draft proposal circulating in Brussels has already sparked divisions inside the Commission as well as amongst other countries' telecoms regulators.
As well as the proposal for veto powers, the draft outlined ideas for such a pan-European telecoms regulator to act as an advisory body to the Commission.
Richards warns "a centralization of power to Brussels, plus a new European bureaucracy" would not enhance the quality of EU telecoms regulation.
"The harmonization of regulation across Europe works only when it respects the freedom of independent nat¬ional regulators to respond to conditions in their own markets." He wrote the revised EU telecoms framework must "strike the right balance between promoting consistency and harmonization in European regulation, and the need to reflect different conditions in national markets".
Ofcom, one of the most outward looking regulators within the EC, a stance that has led the U.K. to take the lead in regulation and liberalization for many years, favors strengthening the existing European regulators' group, rather than creating a pan-European telecoms agency.
However Commissioner Reding argues that her revised telecoms framework would improve consistency of rules across the EU, help younger rivals to challenge the dominance of former state-owned monopolies, and boost development of high data rate broadband networks.
However, her call for a pan-European telecoms regulator has sparked concern among some member states that have little appetite for the agency. A majority of EU member states and the European parliament must back any proposed telecoms framework for it to take effect. It is unlikely to become law until 2009 at the earliest.
Reding has recently announced plans to repeal long-standing European regulations on using frequency bands that are currently employed for the GSM network. The aim is to allow European network operators to use the 900MHz and 18000MHz bands more efficiently, increasing the number and choice of wireless services available and expanding their geographic coverage.
This was well received, unlike her calls during the year to back unilaterally the DVB-H flavor of mobile TV as a standard and her threat to mandate this technology's use.
The strong endorsement upset the backers of alternative specifications for delivering TV to mobiles, such as those based on DMB, digital audio broadcasting (DAB) technology or the MediaFLO specification promoted by Qualcomm, and is the source of much debate within the mobile communications sector.
In July, Reding said: "Mobile broadcasting is a tremendous opportunity for Europe to maintain and expand its leadership in mobile technology and audiovisual services. Europe today is at a crossroads. We can either take the lead globally - as we did for mobile telephony based on the GSM standard developed by the European industry - or allow other regions to take the lion's share of the promising mobile TV market.
"Wait-and-see is not an option. The time has come for Europe's industry and governments to switch on to mobile TV," she argued.