New EU Framework Will Ban Spamming

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Commission is drafting a new regulatory framework for telecommunications that includes a ban on all unsolicited e-mails unless recipients opt in, or give prior consent.

The package of six directives -- EU laws that member states must adapt into their own legislation -- includes one on data protection in the telco sector that sets conditions under which telecom information can be intercepted.

"It deals with spamming," said Peer Halgard, spokesman for Erkki Liikanen, the commissioner in charge of the information society. "We are proposing an opt-in solution rather than the opt out you have in the US. We want to make spamming illegal across the EU."

But he claimed that was the only part of the package that would increase regulation. The rest, he said, was designed to implement the EU's e-Europe program, which member governments agreed to push at a summit meeting in June.

The program should make the EU and its members more competitive in the new economy, meaning, able to compete more effectively with the US and to reduce the American lead on the Internet.

"We are cutting the number of directives in this sector from 26 to six," Halgard said, "and we want to simplify the whole regulatory process in order to make the European telecom industry more dynamic and competitive."

The idea, he added, was to provide the industry with a flexible legal framework that could handle new technology and "ensure fair competition between existing suppliers and new entrants to the industry."

Such a framework would aid foreign competitors, such as US telcos entering the EU, because it would be easier to understand, operate and apply, and would mean less red tape, more competition and a more transparent market.

Another proposal would cut the cost of Internet access by unbundling local loops, the last mile before a service provider can reach home or office and that in many nations is still the provenance of former monopoly telcos.

The EU proposal aims to "fully unbundle" the loop before Jan. 1. Among other things that would allow providers to choose which service they want to offer -- data, voice, etc. -- rather than having "full access."

Data transmission means shared access and that "makes everything much easier for the [Internet service providers]," Halgard said.

A third directive covers licensing, moving away from issuing individual licenses for every telco activity to a system of general licenses which would make obtaining licenses quicker and easier.

Other proposals include one assuring universal service with assured dial-up Internet access, copyright protection and alternative dispute resolution procedures as a way of avoiding court action in cross-border disputes.

"There is a clear sense of urgency among European leaders to get this done as quickly as possible," Halgard said. "E-Europe sets 2002 as a deadline. We expect to have this package in place by the first half of next year."
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