EU Scales Back Telecom Regulator Plan

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The European Commission Friday scaled back its ambitions to create a U.S. Federal Communications Commission-style regulator for the European Union, after lawmakers opposed the move in September.

"The European Telecoms Authority proposed by the Commission will be substantially smaller in size and competences than initially envisaged," the Commission said in a statement.

By bowing to the wishes of lawmakers instead of challenging them, the Commission hopes to ensure a speedy adoption of new telecom rules by April next year, which would allow them to come into force by the beginning of 2010 throughout the E.U.

"I hope this will help the French Presidency to make substantial progress on the EU Telecoms Reform in view of the next Council meeting on 27 November," said Telecom Commissioner Viviane Reding in the statement. France currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU. The meeting she referred to is the next meeting of telecom ministers from all 27 E.U. countries.

The new body will be a "lean and efficient" office that will focus on telecom regulation and have no competency with regard to spectrum or network security. Originally, the plan was to fold the three functions into one pan-European regulator with powers similar to those assigned to the U.S. FCC.

Dubbed BERT, short for the Body of the European Telecoms Regulators, the new agency will be staffed half by people seconded from national telecom regulators and half by centrally appointed officials, the Commission said.

The shape of the new regulator was the most-contested element of the Commission's package of legislative changes, known collectively as the telecom package.

Lawmakers in the European Parliament and the European Council of national government ministers have broadly accepted other changes, including functional separation of services for former telecom monopolies that fail to compete fairly with rivals.

The Commission's plans to strengthen consumer rights have also been left broadly unchanged after being debated by the lawmakers. The European Parliament in particular supported the Commission's efforts in this direction. However, it didn't approve of the way the Commission wants to handle the redistribution of radio frequencies once TV stations have all migrated to digital broadcasting, and the two institutions remain at loggerheads over how to handle the so-called digital dividend.

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