Commission proposes a level playing field for telephone services The European Commission has presented the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament with a proposal for a Directive containing a set of working practices that are intended to maintain the quality of the universal telecommunications service offered to consumers. The pro... The European Commission has presented the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament with a proposal for a Directive containing a set of working practices that are intended to maintain the quality of the universal telecommunications service offered to consumers. The proposed Directive sets out the basic features of a universal public telephone service to be available to all users in the EU. These include the provision of telephone lines within published delivery periods, the provision of itemized billing, and the availability of independent procedures for settling billing disputes. As the European telecommunications sector moves towards full competition in telephone services and infrastructure, it is important to ensure that all users, in particular individual consumers, continue to have access to a basic, affordable telephone service, and that such features as public call boxes, directory services and special tariff schemes for certain social groups continue to be available. The proposed Directive calls on the national regulatory authorities for telecommunications to assume responsibility for management of the national numbering plan, in order to ensure fair and transparent allocation of numbers to all market players. When adopted, the present proposal would constitute the second Directive in the area of Open Network Provision (ONP)- a policy designed to harmonize conditions for access to, and use of, public telecommunications networks and services. The first ONP Directive on leased lines (point-to-point circuits used mainly by business users) was adopted in June 1992. The proposal for a Directive on the application of ONP to voice telephony concerns the harmonization of access to public telephone networks and services, for both individual consumers and commercial companies. The Commission proposal covers issues such as: - Non-discriminatory service for all users, i.e. availability of technical access, tariffs, quality of service, availability of information to customers; - The right to have a new telephone line installed within a published delivery period; - The right to have itemized telephone bills, and access to independent settlement procedures for billing disputes; - The need to guarantee that the cost of a telephone service remains affordable to all users, under supervision of the national regulatory authority; - Transparent and properly published tariffs and a transparent cost accounting system; - Discount schemes for certain uses as well as socially desirable tariffs for particular groups of people, for particular types of calls, or at particular times of day; - Ensuring the supply of telephone directories and directory services; - Provision and availability of public pay-telephones; - Promoting the creation of a single type of telephone payment card, which can be used in all Member States; - Support to groups of people with special needs, such as disabled people; - Development of Europe-wide telephone numbering schemes, facilitating the use of freephone/green-number services; - Guaranteeing users the same rights and legal protection as when dealing with other goods and services.