The European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA) has published its 2006 regulatory scorecard which highlights serious issues with the implementation of the EU’s framework for communications in what it sees as a ‘patchwork picture of liberalisation’ across Europe. More than three years have passed since the European Framework for Telecoms Regulation came into force but ECTA notes its contents have not yet been implemented in many countries, resulting in customers having to pay excessive charges for a limited service. ECTA says the problem is most apparent when it comes to the cost and availability of broadband and business communications services.
It is not all bad news. Countries sitting at the top of ECTA’s scorecard in 2006 include the UK (1st), Denmark (2nd) and France (3rd), all of which have been ‘more pro-active in driving pro-competitive reforms, have seen a wealth of telecoms offers, growth and investment in the sector, and [have] some of the lowest retail prices in Europe’. Meanwhile, those countries languishing at the bottom end of the table include Poland (17th and lowest), Greece (16th) and Germany (15th), all of which ECTA says ‘have struggled in some areas to provide an environment in which competition can flourish, which has a negative impact on both consumers and businesses in those countries’.
The ECTA Scorecard is a barometer of how effectively each EU member state and its regulatory authorities have created a fully liberalised telecoms environment. ECTA says the results of its 2006 study send a clear message to governments and regulators alike that more must be done to create a ‘pro-competitive environment for telecoms’ where real and tangible results will flourish. It goes on to say that in the broadband arena, a strong correlation exists between the measures put in place to encourage a sustainable ‘ladder of investment for competition’ and broadband take-up, citing France, the UK and Denmark as countries which have acted quickly to ensure that ‘competition can develop,’ and where as a result, broadband penetration is running well above the EU average of 15%. By contrast, Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic and Ireland, where effective and appropriate regulation is less evident, have all lagged behind in broadband take-up.
ECTA is now urging EU telecoms ministers to push through reforms to complete liberalisation across the continent, including a call for an enhanced role for the European Regulators Group (ERG) and powers for regulators to mandate functional separation. Steen Clausen, Managing Director, ECTA, said: ‘What we need is a smarter approach to regulation. It is very clear from the Scorecard that even where rules have been applied on paper, they don’t always work in practice. So looking at deregulation when markets are not yet fully open is premature. An enhanced role for the ERG could help to spread best practice more effectively between regulators across Europe. The ERG and Member States should look closely at how this can be achieved. Powers for regulators to functionally separate access from services could also help to better enforce the existing regime.’