Call to liberalise EC phone market

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The Independent Online
BT HAS called on the European Commission to force rapid liberalisation of the telecommunications markets on member states by using Article 90 of the Treaty of Rome.

This would enable the Commission to issue a directive opening up the market without the consent of national governments.

BT wants free competition in offering public and private telephone services throughout the EC, and in providing the telecommunications infrastructure.

The Commission is in favour of freedom in offering cross-border public telephone services and infrastructure, but BT says this does not go far enough.

The company plans to tap European markets though Syncordia and Global Network Services, its international subsidiaries. However, communications services in many European countries are dominated by state-controlled monopolies, and the telephone companies and governments have been resistant to change.

A further problem is that, while many telecommunications services (but not public voice telephony) have, in theory, been opened to competition by earlier directives, several countries have failed to implement them at the national level.

In a submission to the Commission, BT says that failure to introduce full and fair competition is against the spirit of the Treaty of Rome.

The company said: 'It is for those opposing competition to justify why it should not prevail in telecommunications as it does in almost all other sectors.'

BT is demanding full competition by 1995, and has called on the Commission to use its powers now to remove 'special and exclusive rights in respect of all public voice telephony and infrastructure'.

It argues that other industries will benefit from a competitive telecommunications sector and that consumers will see service improve and prices fall.

Competition-shy telephone authorities say it is impossible to provide universal services unless they have a monopoly, a point flatly rejected by BT. It says the Commission could introduce a method of sharing out the costs of offering service to remote areas and to less lucrative customers.

Newcomers to the market could then help to shoulder that burden and not cream off the most lucrative business without taking any responsibility for the market as a whole.