EU Parliament debates telco reform ahead of vote

The European Parliament has debated a series of sweeping telecoms reforms proposed by the European Commission.

The Parliament has backed the reforms at committee stage and heard from MEPs who had investigated the proposals who said that the measures would help to stimulate industry, innovation and job-creation.

The Commission has proposed amending five existing EU Directives and one Regulation in a sweeping package of telecoms reform that it says would strengthen consumer rights, increase users' access to new technologies and increase users' data security.

The European Parliament will vote on the proposal at the end of September, but debated it this week. The Parliament had appointed rapporteurs to produce reports on various aspects of the changes.

The proposals include plans to harmonise the use of spectrum across the EU as space is freed up by the switch from analogue to digital television.

Italian rapporteur on that subject Patrizia Toia said that it was essential to have an EU-wide policy on harmonisation to make the best use of the resources that were becoming available. She said that spectrum is a "public good" with "social value" that could benefit all citizens. EU-wide co-ordination is essential to get the full public benefit though, she said.

A British MEP reported to Parliament on users' rights and said that "consumers are entitled to be informed about some of the problems they might encounter, whether it is potential for infringing copyright, whether it is potential for unauthorised use, whether it is potential for example for buying things that could damage their health like counterfeit medicines".

The Parliament's rapporteurs backed Commission plans to increase the tranpsarency of billing for communications services and to improve the speed at which consumers can change service provider while retaining telephone numbers.

The Commission's proposal has been significantly modified by Parliament's committees, acting on the rapporteurs' reports. The Commission had proposed the creation of an EU-wide telecoms regulator under its auspices, but the Parliament's industry committee rejected that plan.

Instead it said it would agree only to a co-regulatory body that would involve the Commission and the existing national telecoms regulators.

EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding said that the alternative body would be too slow and cumbersome in reacting to market developments.

Other aspects of the Commission's proposals include forcing internet service providers to tell customers when they have lost their data and improving the performance of the 112 EU-wide emergency number.

The whole Parliament will vote on the measures in the next Parliamentary session between 22nd and 25th September.