Move to cut phone charges postponed

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THE European Commission yesterday postponed starting the process of cutting the charges that European consumers have to pay for international telephone calls.

A consultation paper, due to be approved at a meeting of the 16 Commissioners yesterday, was withdrawn at the last minute.

The paper laid out four options for dealing with the high price that telephone monopolies charge in the EC, ranging from allowing them to continue, to forcing public phone companies to compete in a free market.

It is said to have come down in favour of limited deregulation, allowing competition on international calls between EC states but not on domestic calls nor international calls outside Europe.

Sir Leon Brittan, the competition commissioner, is understood to have agreed to postpone discussion of the document for a fortnight in order to bring back a watered-down version.

The ostensible reason for the paper's withdrawal is the Commission's fear of being seen to interfere in the nooks and crannies of people's lives. But others say that such arguments are a cover for the vested interests of equipment makers and telephone monopolies.