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EU regulatory body bemoans bureaucracy in MEP-backed telecoms market reforms

Out-Law News | 22 May 2014 | 4:50 pm | 2 min. read

Proposed reforms to EU telecoms laws could reduce the ability of national regulators to protect public safety, security and health, a regulatory body has warned.

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), which is made up of representatives from each of the national telecoms regulators in the 28 EU countries, said that plans to give it supervisory powers over decisions made by national regulators have unclear benefits.

In April the European Parliament backed amendments to European Commission plans to reform the regulation of the telecoms market in the EU. MEPs said BEREC should have the power to issue a "reasoned opinion" on any plans national regulatory authorities (NRAs) have to prevent operators providing electronic communications networks or services "if it considers that the draft measure would create a barrier to the single market".

NRAs are currently able to take such decisions where operators are responsible for serious or repeated breaches of their licensing conditions or in cases where a temporary suspension is justified on grounds of public safety, public security or public health.

However, under the European Parliament's plans, NRAs would have to take "utmost account" of BEREC's opinion on their plans before finalising the measures they intend to take. In a new opinion it has published on the MEPs' proposals, BEREC expressed concerns with the plans.

"The benefit of the proposed procedure is unclear," it said in a new opinion on the Parliament's proposals (6-page / 381KB PDF). "It is enormously burdensome and would delay NRAs’ enforcement action in their national markets, which would in turn hinder NRAs’ ability to intervene swiftly and effectively, including in cases where public safety, public security, public health and other serious users or providers’ interest are at stake, with serious potential for consumer detriment."

BEREC also raised concerns with "the proposed new layer of bureaucracy", that it said the European Parliament had given support to, that will surround the release of radio spectrum for use by telecoms companies.

The bureaucracy "could slow down spectrum release, and would not necessarily lead to more efficient spectrum usage", BEREC said.

"The introduction of such tightly defined parameters and detailed criteria to be taken into account when awarding spectrum, risks stifling the very innovation and regulatory advances that have led to significant progress so far and should continue to do so in the future," it said.

Proposed rules designed to ensure 'net neutrality' are too rigidly framed, the regulatory body also said. Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs will deliver all content requested by a customer equally, not allowing content producers to have preferential access to subscribers. BEREC said it preferred net neutrality to be managed on the basis of principles that NRAs can assess operators' compliance with.

"Under such an approach, national regulators would be pursuing the same objective and enforcing the same principles, but the specific triggers and thresholds for regulatory intervention in a given market could be adapted to address national circumstances," BEREC said. "If a rules-based approach is nonetheless to be pursued, then further work would be required to ensure that the definitions and rules were legally precise, future-proof and enforceable in practice."