|Vol 7, No.12, 22.3.01, p10
EUROPEAN Commission telecoms chief Erkki Liikanen is striking back at claims that last year's hastily-adopted law aimed at prising open phone markets has failed to connect with consumers.
The new regulation, unbundling the so-called 'local loop' or last kilometre of telephone cable to users' homes, is meant to offer competing firms access to consumers without having to spend billions of euro digging up roads to build their own networks.
These rivals to traditional telecoms monopolies would then be able to provide customers with a choice of fast 'broadband' Internet services using digital technology that soups up the copper wire used in older phone networks.
The plan has been touted as a shot in the arm for fast and cheap Internet access, with a resulting boost in e-commerce and computer literacy.
But critics claim the Commission has allowed the former monopoly operators to avoid opening up their local networks by 1 January.
The Finnish info-society chief's office counters that data being gathered now will highlight the success of the plan - the findings will be unveiled at next month's meeting of telecom ministers.
In the meantime, Liikanen's spokesman, Per Haugaard, says complaints would be better aimed at regulators in charge of making sure domestic operators abide by the rules.
"There is a clear legal framework - hard and fast law that applies in all of the member states. There is a clear obligation on incumbents to unbundle their local loops," the official said. "Criticism should be aimed at the people to which this obligation applies. They have to do this quickly, under the supervision of national regulatory authorities."
Internet service providers (ISPs) are not happy with the early results of the new law. A senior official at AOL Europe, part of the US online giant, said local loop unbundling has "clearly been a massive disappointment".
The worst problem, claims Simon Hampton, the company's regulatory affairs director, is the absolute failure of any member state to ensure operators abide by part of the law which has the most impact on consumers.
This is known as 'line sharing' because it would allow a consumer to buy phone service from the tried- and-trusted old monopoly while using a new company for Internet connections.
"There are major problems - so far not one company has offered shared access," says Hampton.
AOL Europe wants the Commission to promote a UK-pioneered system which has paved the way for 'unmetered' access to Internet services at a monthly price more customers can afford.
The former UK monopoly British Telecom is being forced to offer ISPs access to its network at a special rate. This allows the ISP to offer 'flat rate' services costing around €21-24 per month.
European Commission telecoms chief Erkki Liikanen is striking back at claims that last year's hastily-adopted law aimed at prising open phone markets has failed to connect with consumers.
|Business and Industry