The European Commission has communicated a request for more effective enforcement of telecoms regulation by the Belgian telecoms regulator, BIPT. In particular, the Commission considers that BIPT has been unsuccessful in implementing the telecoms regulation and this has been the cause for the lack of effective competition and high tariffs on the Belgian market for fixed telephone calls.

In September 2008, BIPT notified to the Commission the results of a national consultation regarding the markets for publicly available local and/or national fixed telephone services. In this notification, BIPT established that the market should be subject to ex-ante regulation because it met the three conditions provided for in the telecoms regulation. These conditions are: (i) there are high and non-transitory entry barriers; (ii) the structure of the market does not tend towards effective competition within the relevant time horizon; and (iii) the application of competition law alone would not adequately address the market failures. BIPT also found that obligations should be imposed on Belgacom, the leader on the national market, requiring it to act in a non-discriminatory, transparent manner, and prohibiting it to charge excessive or predatory prices.

As a response to these draft measures, the Commission agrees with BIPT’s analysis that Belgacom is dominant on the market and that ex-ante regulation should be applied. However, it points out that wholesale remedies such as wholesale line rental obligations and (pre-)carrier selection obligations put forward by BIPT on previous occasions have not yet had the desired effect on retail competition. Indeed, the wholesale line rental obligation to alternative operators imposed on Belgacom in 2006 has not yet been enforced. Other obligations, including (pre-)carrier selection obligations and the new price regulation recently imposed upon Belgacom, which should have led to more choice and affordable prices for consumers, appear to be ineffective.

The Commission has thus encouraged BIPT to ensure that all relevant wholesale remedies contribute to sustainable retail competition and, in the meantime, to address the issue of high prices with direct retail remedies. BIPT is also invited to carry out a new market study within a year.