EU mulls opening up phone, internet sector

The European Commission will present a plan to set up an EU-wide regulatory body with the power to separate telecom networks and access providers to foster competition and reduce costs for customers, an Associated Press report said.

Calling the existing panel of national telecom regulators a 'do-nothing group' that has ignored the interests of EU consumers, the EU's executive arm will call for the creation of a European Telecom Market Authority, which could push national regulators to tackle large telecommunications companies and their stranglehold over national markets, the Associated Press report also said.

Smaller telecom businesses blame regulators' inaction for holding back the rollout of high-speed internet across Europe, the report added.

Only one in five households in wealthy Western Europe has broadband, with high prices and little choice keeping people offline, it said.

But the EU plan, widely discussed in the past weeks, faces fierce opposition from major companies such as France Telecom, which argue it could harm investment in next-generation networks, the report said.

The proposal to break up networks from service branches at incumbent operators 'goes in the wrong direction' and would hamper the companies' ability to coordinate complex investment decisions, Jacques Champeaux, France Telecom's senior vice president for regulatory affairs, was quoted by the Associated Press report as saying.

Instead, France Telecom is proposing that rival internet providers could run new optical fiber cables alongside the incumbent company's own pipes, getting the pipeline capacity they need to offer competing services to end users, the report said.

The European Competitive Telecoms Association, a group of recent telecom entrants that compete with once state-owned telephone providers, said that just under 20% of western European households now have broadband internet.