EU Wants Telecoms to Share Broadband Infrastructure With Competitors

The European Commission unveiled plans Thursday that would force telecommunications providers to share broadband infrastructure with rivals and unify regulations in the sector.

Viviane Reding, the European Union commissioner in charge of the EU's telecommunications policy, said the rules would encourage competition.

"We must open the markets when they are dominated by dominant players," she told reporters. "We have seen in all our analysis, where the markets are opened, investments are done and prices go down for consumers."

Many countries are dragging their heels in applying EU orders to open up their markets to competition, allowing historic telephone monopolies to remain dominant players with the power to determine who can access their networks.

As a result, phone companies like Deutsche Telekom AG (DT) and France Telecom (FTE) control 80 percent of European broadband connections.

In contrast, U.S. telephone companies account for only 38 percent of subscribers there.

Much is at stake. According to the EU head office, electronic communications, which include fixed voice telephony, mobile communications and broadband services, was a market worth $339 billion last year. And the European Commission sees digital technologies as a tool to stoke growth in the EU, whose economy grew by a modest 2 percent in 2005.

Reding's plans include setting up a single market for the radio spectrum, replacing 25 different regulations covering use of the airwaves. She previously has proposed a single European telecom regulator that would coordinate national market watchdogs.