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Brussels, 18th March 2010

Telecoms: Commission requests information from Spain on new charge on operators; closes infringement case on universal service

The European Commission has decided to send a formal request for information to Spain over a new charge imposed on telecoms operators to offset the ending of paid advertising by the Spanish public broadcaster RTVE (Radio Televisión Española). The Commission is concerned that this administrative charge, based on authorised operators' turnover, may be incompatible with EU law because it does not appear to be related to costs arising from regulatory supervision. The Commission position takes the form of a "letter of formal notice under EU infringement procedures (Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). Spain has two months to reply. The Commission has also closed an infringement case on financing the universal service after Spain modified its national law and launched a tender and a public consultation on a new way of designating universal service providers.

Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "The Commission is concerned that this new charge on telecoms operators may be incompatible with EU rules. This charge appears to unduly hit telecom operators, possibly limiting their investments in new networks and advanced services, and would ultimately penalise telecom customers."

Levy on telecoms operators

In September 2009, a new law on financing the Spanish public broadcaster RTVE (Ley 8/2009) entered into force, which imposes a charge of 0.9% on the gross revenues of telecoms operators registered with the national regulator CMT (Comisión del Mercado de las Telecomunicaciones) to make up for the loss of revenue from advertising on public TV channels. A limited number of operators were exempted from paying this charge based on the geographical scope and the type of telecoms services they provide.

According to EU telecoms rules (the Authorisation Directive - 2002/20/EC), charges on telecoms operators can only cover certain administrative and regulatory costs (mainly authorisations and regulatory functions) and should be objective, transparent and proportionate. Interested parties must also be consulted in an appropriate manner. The Commission is concerned that the new charge may not comply with these conditions.

The Spanish law on RTVE financing and, in particular, the charge imposed on telecoms operators do not seem to be in line with these provisions. In January 2010, a similar case related to administrative charges was opened against France (see IP/10/67).

In December 2009, the Commission opened a formal state aid investigation into the new funding system for RTVE and, at the time, already expressed its doubts about the compatibility of the new charges with EU rules and in particular with the Authorisation Directive (IP/09/1861). The procedure initiated today is without prejudice to the state aid investigation.

If the Commission receives no reply, or if the observations presented by the Spanish Government are not satisfactory, the Commission may issue a 'reasoned opinion' under EU infringement procedures (requesting Spain to amend its legislation to ensure full compliance with EU rules).

Closure of universal service case

The Commission has also closed an infringement case against Spain after Spain modified its national legislation to align with the requirements of the Universal Service Directive, in particular as regards the financing. Spain also issued a call for tender for the provisions of directory enquiry services within the scope of universal service and launched a public consultation for a new designation of undertakings for the provision of the remaining elements of universal service (i.e. access at a fixed location, public payphones and directories).

In June 2007, the Commission had launched actions against Spain over its mechanism for the designation and financing of providers of universal service (IP/07/888 and MEMO/07/255). According to EU telecoms rules, EU countries must make sure that no company is automatically excluded when designating the providers of universal service. However, the Spanish authorities seemed to exclude at least one company, which had expressed interest in the provision of one element of the universal service. EU countries can also grant these universal service providers compensation for offering these services, in case they find that this represents an unfair burden and upon request from the designated operator. However, the Spanish law suggested that these requirements were not necessary before a financing mechanism is set-up.

In September 2008, the Commission sent Spain a reasoned opinion, the second stage of an infringement proceeding, requesting Spain to amend its legislation on universal service (IP/08/1344).

A detailed overview of telecoms infringement procedures is available at:

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