European Commission takes Belgium, Luxembourg to court over telecom regulators

Issues involve competition in telecom sector

The European Commission is dragging Belgium and Luxembourg to court, claiming that regulators in the countries are not operating in accordance with EU rules meant to ensure strong competition in the telecom market.

The Commission claims the Belgian national regulator is not independent. EU rules forbid political interference with national telecom authorities, which are responsible for market regulation and dispute settlement among companies. However, the independence of the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT) is not guaranteed, the Commission said Thursday.

Under Belgian law, the country's Council of Ministers can suspend the regulator's decisions. The council is also required to approve the regulator's overall strategy.

"The Commission considers that these elements limit the independence of the BIPT when implementing EU telecom rules and that this can have negative consequences for competition in the sector," it said, adding that an independent regulator is essential to a well-functioning, deregulated market.

To guarantee the regulator's independence, in April the Commission requested that Belgium change the law. Since Belgium has yet to act on that request, the Commission has referred the case to the European Court of Justice for an infringement proceeding.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg was taken to court by the Commission, which claims the country's telecom authority, the Institut Luxembourgeois de Regulation, has failed to carry out a timely analysis of the markets for fixed access to the public telephone network and for leased lines, breaching EU rules.

The failure to carry out a timely analysis of a market may result in unnecessary regulations, which could in turn "lead to negative consequences for investment incentives, for innovation, and for competition in the market," the Commission said.

The last analysis was undertaken in 2007, the Commission noted. While an analysis on leased lines is expected to be completed in November, there is no timetable for an analysis of the market for fixed access.

"Given the significant delays, it is imperative to urge swift completion of the analysis to determine whether these obligations are still justified in view of how competition in the market has developed since," the Commission said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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