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EU moves to complete telecoms liberalization

The Council of EU Telecommunications Ministers, meeting in Brussels on 6 March 1997, made significant progress on a number of the legislative proposals necessary for the completion of the internal market in telecommunications services.

The Community has set a deadline of 1 Ja...
The Council of EU Telecommunications Ministers, meeting in Brussels on 6 March 1997, made significant progress on a number of the legislative proposals necessary for the completion of the internal market in telecommunications services.

The Community has set a deadline of 1 January 1998 for the completion of telecoms liberalization (although a minority of Member States have extensions of up to three years) and although much of the legislation required has already entered force, there are still several proposals which have not completed their passage through the Community's decision-making process. It should be noted that since the majority of the legislation is in the form of directives, these have to be implemented by national provisions in each of the Member States. Consequently, with less than ten months to go before the deadline for liberalization, the Council and Parliament are now moving with increased urgency to enact the remaining provisions in sufficient time.

The Council reached agreements on three proposed Directives, on which the European Parliament had only adopted its opinions on 20 February.

Firstly, on the proposed Directive on open network provision (ONP) in voice telephony, the Council reached a political agreement on a common position. This Directive would adapt an existing Directive to the new conditions of a liberalized environment. In particular, it addresses the provision of universal service - the guarantee of a minimum level of service, at an affordable price and specified quality, to all users.

The common position also extends some aspects to mobile telephony, including the provisions on directories and contracts. Member States may also oblige mobile operators to contribute to the costs of financing universal service. The Council did not go as far as the Parliament in including mobile telephony in the scope of the Directive, however. The common position will be returned to the Parliament for a second reading, following the finalization of the text in all lnguages, and is likely to be adopted finally within a few months.

The Council adopted the other two Directives concerned, accepting the Parliament's amendments to the common positions. These two Directives relate to satellite personal communications services, and licences for offering telecommunications services. The satellite personal communications services Directive was adopted by the Council without discussion. It aims to coordinate the rapid introduction of compatible personal satellite communications services across the EU.

The licensing Directive introduces a common framework to be used by Member States for individual licences and general authorizations for the provision of telecommunications services in the Community. It limits the use of specific individual licences to certain circumstances, allowing the bulk of services to be provided on the basis of general authorizations. The Directive is also to introduce a "one-stop shop" procedure to facilitate the provision of services throughout the Community, and will create a licensing committee composed of Member States' representatives, charged with the implementation of the Directive.

Commissioner Martin Bangemann, responsible for telecommunications, presented several recent initiatives by the Commission. He also advised Ministers of the situation in regard to the implementation by Member States of telecoms liberalization legislation. He announced that he would present a report on this in May 1997, prior to the next Telecommunications Council on 29 May.
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