Italian lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation to open up the country's telecoms market despite concerns from the European Commission and telecoms operators such as Telecom Italia that it may undermine the national regulator's independence and power.<?xml:namespace prefix = o />
The telecoms rules, part of a package of measures passed by Italy's lower house of parliament, include revised plans to unbundle maintenance costs from monthly fees charged by telecoms operators. The Senate had approved the proposal last week.
The new law allows operators to use third-party providers for maintenance and other ancillary operations on network capacity rented from Telecom Italia. The new legislation could hit the profits of dominant provider Telecom Italia (Milan, Italy). The company could previously select providers and negotiate on behalf of the operators.
The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, whose members include Telefonica , Orange and Telecom Italia, wrote to EU telecoms chief Neelie Kroes last month expressing its concerns over the Italian proposal.
The lobbying group said the proposed rules would curb the power of Italy's independent, nongovernmental regulator, AGCOM, over access to Telecom Italia's network.
Italian authorities had amended the proposals after the lobbying from the industry but the Commission, which acts as the telecoms regulator across the 27-country European Union, said it still saw potential problems.
"While this new version now gives a role to the regulator, the Commission still has concerns as to whether the powers and discretion of AGCOM under the EU framework are fully respected by the legislator," the EU executive said in a statement.
The European telecoms regulator said it had written a second letter to Italian authorities, seeking details on the potential impact of the revised law. Italy has 10 weeks to reply.
The Commission said Italy had yet to respond to a letter sent on March 16 on the same subject. It could force Italy to comply with EU laws or risk being taken to courts and hit with a fine.
The Italian government had originally wanted to take charge of the unbundling plan instead of leaving it to AGCOM, the national telecoms regulator, but later backed down.
AGCOM will have to ensure that within 120 days of the entry into force of the law, it "should identify appropriate measures to ensure unbundled offers on wholesale prices for access to the fixed network and ancillary services."
The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), whose members are made up of the heads of 27 EU national regulators, has voiced similar concerns, citing EU rules that guarantee national regulators' independence.
(Reporting By Giselda Vagnoni in Rome, Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Editing by Andrew Callus, Gary Hill)