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European Commission - Press release

Digital Agenda: Commission asks Court of Justice to fine Portugal over exclusion of companies from providing universal service

Brussels, 22 March 2012 - The European Commission has asked the European Court of Justice to impose a fine on Portugal because it has not respected a 2010 Court judgment requiring it to follow EU telecoms rules when deciding who should provide universal service in Portugal. The Commission is suggesting a lump sum of €7 571/day and a daily penalty payment of €38 984 until the obligations are fulfilled.

Under EU law (the Universal Service Directive), basic services must be available throughout the country, including connection to the telephone network at a reasonable price, public pay telephones and emergency telephone numbers free of charge. The selection of any universal service provider must be based on an efficient, objective, transparent and non-discriminatory procedure. This means that all interested companies should be able to take part, and no company should be excluded from tendering. Despite a 2010 ruling of the EU Court of Justice (C-154/09), Portugal has still not designated its universal service provider(s) in line with EU law. Today's decision to refer Portugal back to the Court, with a view to imposing financial penalties, follows a previous warning from the Commission in April 2011.


Liberalisation of the telecoms sector in the late 1990s was accompanied by universal service rules to act as a safety net where the market alone did not deliver basic services. The aim was to prevent social exclusion by ensuring that citizens in rural and remote areas or low-income households had affordable access to basic and essential telecoms services.

Current EU rules (the EU’s Universal Service Directive) require Member States to ensure that citizens must be able to connect to the public phone network at a fixed location and access public phone services for voice and data communications with functional access to the Internet. The Directive also requires Member States to ensure that consumers have access to directory enquiry services and directories, public payphones and special measures if they are disabled.

Under the Universal Service Directive, Member States have to determine the most efficient way to ensure the implementation of these basic telecom services. In practice this means that Member States must use an efficient, objective, transparent and non-discriminatory procedure to select the telecom provider(s). No company can therefore be excluded from being designated.

Useful links:

Overview of telecoms infringement proceedings

For more information on EU infringement procedures, see MEMO/12/200

Digital Agenda website

Contacts :

Ryan Heath (+32 2 296 17 16), Twitter: @ECspokesRyan

Linda Cain (+32 2 299 90 19)

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