EC to enforce local loop unbundling

The European Commission is poised to take legal action against member states whose former telecommunication monopolies have...

The European Commission is poised to take legal action against member states whose former telecommunication monopolies have failed to open the local loop to competition.

Erkki Liikanen, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, announced the move on Thursday. "There is no reason to delay," he said.

Earlier this week 13 telecoms companies - including KPNQwest, Energis and Worldcom - wrote to the commission complaining that incumbent telecoms companies were failing to allow new entrants fair access to the telephone lines that lead directly to people's homes and to businesses.

The companies said in their letter that prices for access to the local loop varied across Europe by as much as 300%, and that delivery times showed "extraordinary deterioration".

In Germany, for example, it can take up to nine months for a competitor to activate an asynchronous digital subscriber line (ADSL) connection for a customer. In the UK, competitor access is further complicated by "exorbitant migration charges", they said.

Liikanen acknowledged the complaints, saying that the problem was not only about anti-competitive pricing by the incumbents but also the long delays they imposed on leasing lines to competitors.

"Those countries that are slowest to liberalise [the telecommunication infrastructure] are paying high costs," Liikanen said. "Those countries also see lower Internet penetration."

The commissioner would not divulge which member states were the worst offenders. He said that more details would be forthcoming next week when the commission publishes its annual report on the process of telecommunication liberalisation in the European Union (EU).

Liikanen said that high-speed Internet access across ADSL lines has developed during the year. "The incumbents have been very active in developing ADSL, but some competitors cannot get there."

The EU passed a law at the beginning of this year forcing member states to open up the local loop to competition. "We can force member states to liberalise the last mile," the commissioner said.

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