European regulators are bracing for some intensive discussions later this year when they meet to review the European Commission's regulatory policy for the telecommunications sectors.
A mixture of new and old ideas, including the separation of networks from services, and the creation of a European telecom regulator, will come under scrutiny, industry insiders say.
A spokeswoman for the Commission declined to comment on the issues ahead of the talks, which are expected to begin in late October or November.
Both new and incumbent network operators are calling for greater consistency in regulating the European Union's huge telecoms market. Harmonised regulation, they argue, will make it easier to offer new services such as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).
Some experts are also suggesting broader roles for the Commission and the European Regulators Group, which consists mostly of local agencies that advise the Commission on telecoms regulation.
"There is an uneven quality of regulation across Europe," said Ilsa Godlovitch, director of regulatory affairs at the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA), which represents competitors to former telephone monopoly operators. "Maybe an enhanced role for both the Commission and ERP is the solution."
But most national regulators worry that the Commission may seek to revive interest in establishing a powerful, cross-border European telecoms regulatory agency, either by creating an entity or transforming the European Regulators Group into the telecom watchdog.
Talk of creating an EU telecoms regulator arose in the mid-1990s in the early years of market liberalisation and surfaced again in 2002 during a review of EU regulatory policy.
"A new European telecom regulator is unnecessary and would be counterproductive," said Rudolf Boll, a spokesman for German network regulator Bundesnetzagentur. While acknowledging a need for consistent regulation, Boll argued that when it comes to implementation local regulators could better regulate local markets.
And UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom has a similar opinion. "The European Regulators Group has recognised the need for greater consistency in European telecom regulations and as a member of it we are working on processes to achieve that consistency," said Ofcom spokesman Simon Bates.
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