MEPs insist Commission should not remove power from national telecoms regulators
The Commission’s telecoms package, which aims to create a single European telecoms market and was published in September, is being discussed by MEPs on the European Parliament’s committee for internal market and consumer protection, which is responsible for the consumer aspects of the proposal.
Malcolm Harbour, the centre-right MEP who is drafting the European Parliament’s response on the consumer aspects and chairs the committee, argues that national regulators – through the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) – are better placed than the Commission to regulate national telecoms markets.
“These are fast-moving markets and you need flexibility and localism” to properly regulate them, Harbour told European Voice. The Commission had proposed that it should have the power to enforce consumer protection rules.
The committee today will discuss amendments to the Commission’s proposal, although MEPs have broadly rallied behind the changes advanced by Harbour, who led the Parliament in the 2002 reform of the telecoms sector which created Berec’s predecessor, the European Regulators Group for electronic communications networks and services. “The signs are that Berec is working well,” said Harbour.
But the Commission and Berec do not always see eye to eye on issues such as broadband pricing. Last year the Commission asked the Italian telecoms regulator, which was supported by Berec, to withdraw its proposed prices for 2013.
When setting minimum prices for telecoms operators, such as Base or 3, using the infrastructure of incumbent operators – such as France Telecom or Deutsche Telecom – regulators need to balance fostering competition through low prices with incentivising incumbents to invest in developing and maintaining their networks.
Berec strongly criticised the Commission’s proposed reforms. Pilar del Castillo, the centre-right MEP leading the Parliament’s response to the non-consumer aspects of the telecoms package, published a draft report in November advocating significant changes.
In addition to restructuring the Commission’s proposal, Harbour argues that consumer protection for telecoms consumers should be reinforced. He has proposed introducing common measurements for telecoms companies advertising the delivery speed of their fixed and mobile internet, to ensure that consumers are not misled.
Consumers should also have greater powers to control their consumption of broadband internet by setting limits or receiving updates on their usage, argued Harbour. He also advocates tightening rules that should allow users to switch providers within 24 hours while holding onto the same mobile number.