ComReg embarks on new EU telecoms framework

21 Feb 2003

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has embarked on putting in place the new telecoms framework that will harmonise telecoms regulation across Europe from 25 July this year.

The framework, the commissioners say, will make it easier for new entrants to come into the market as well as identify and regulate dominant market players.

The new framework, which is aimed at simplifying markets ranging from television and radio to internet and communications, will aim to champion consumer choices and dispute resolutions as well as set in stone what constitutes a dominant market player in each European market.

According to commission chairperson Etain Doyle, the process will begin by stipulating that a dominant player is one that holds in excess of 25pc of any particular market. “The idea is to promote markets, not technologies. The plan is to link the threshold for regulation with competition law’s concept of dominance. In essence, market forces will dominate the agenda and national regulatory authorities will only step in when they are justified in doing so,” Doyle said.

The new EU framework builds on the 1998 directive to deregulate all of the EU’s communications markets. The difference in 2003, however, is that instead of dealing with telecoms as a whole, the complex technological worlds of broadcasting, fixed-line communications and mobile communications are merging with the converged consumer expectations of information, communication and entertainment. “The impact of all of this on society should not be underestimated,” she said.

Commissioner John Doherty, formerly of IDA Ireland, said that the framework process will begin with a period of consultation with industry and consumer groups on uniting the various rules and regulations relating to radio spectrums and other technical regulations such as interconnect and access with the aim of simplifying the rules. “We will be looking to establish certain minimal rights for any operator targeting any form of electronic communication or transmission of services across Europe. There are key decisions for each member state arising from this new directive.”

The new directive will also include rulings on data protection and privacy rights. Among the key provisions covering all manner of communications including emails, voice, text, sound and image processing and opt-in or prior consent will be required. As well as this, direct marketing material must include the identity of the sender and a valid address.

The contentious issue of the use of cookies by online advertisers and marketers will be addressed through a directive that states that the use of cookies will be subject to clear and comprehensive data given to the internet user in advance of the intended use of cookie data, with an opt-out option included.

Commissioner Isolde Goggin, formerly of the Competition Authority, said that fundamental to the harmonisation of communications regulation across Europe will be a series of market reviews of each country. “Operators with market share of more than 25pc of large pre-specified markets will effectively be designated significant market players and will conform to rulings on what constitutes fair play in their respective market. This will include detailed analysis and consultation with each country’s market as well as ‘ex ante’ regulation in certain markets, whereby regulatory rules that have been in place from the beginning will remain in place if deemed prudent to do so. Each regulatory authority will have to look at their market and decide if there is fair competition.”

Etain Doyle concluded: “The challenge is to get the right balance between harmonisation and recognition of the needs of different states.”

By John Kennedy