Some European Telecom Regulators Seen as Weak

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Telecommunications regulators in Sweden, Lithuania and Latvia aren't independent enough and are too weak to uphold European Union telecom laws, the European Commission said Thursday when it opened legal proceedings against the three countries.

Sweden's national regulatory authority was singled out for lacking the power to settle disputes between operators over interconnection agreements. The Commission said a Swedish law restricts the authority's ability to act.

"National regulatory authorities are the backbone of the E.U. telecoms rules and are therefore central to fair regulation in our single telecoms market," E.U. Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement.

National regulatory authorities in Latvia and Lithuania have failed to maintain independence from telecoms ministries in those countries, the Commission said.

"Their respective ministries responsible for telecoms perform certain functions assigned to national regulators in the areas of numbering, frequency management and universal service while at the same time exercising, on behalf of the state, activities associated with ownership and control ('operational activities') in certain state-owned telecoms companies," the Commission said.

It added that the failure to separate the roles of regulator and shareholder compromised the impartiality of the regulators.

All three countries received a so-called letter of formal notice, the first of three legal steps that lead to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The Commission also pursued ongoing legal action against Poland, Cyprus and Spain.

It sent a reasoned opinion -- stage two in the process -- to Spain concerning its failure to meet E.U. universal telecoms service requirements. And it took the final step of referring Poland and Cyprus to the European Court of Justice. Poland, for failing to regulate the retail market for broadband Internet access, and Cyprus over its rights of way rules.

Meanwhile, the Commission closed two pending cases against Latvia and Finland.

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