Brussels, 24th January 2013
Digital Agenda: Commission asks Court of Justice to fine Portugal over exclusion of companies from providing universal service
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 € 5 277.30 per day for the period between the 2010 judgement and eventual second Court ruling.
Today's decision to refer Portugal back to the Court, with a view to imposing financial penalties, follows a previous Court referral decision from the Commission in March 2012 (IP/12/287). The Commission has taken into account the progress made by the Portuguese authorities since then, in particular through the publication of invitations to tender, and has therefore proposed a reduced lump sum.
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 in the designation procedure, 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.
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 who designate specific providers to do so must use an efficient, objective, transparent and non-discriminatory procedure to select them. No company can therefore be excluded from being designated.
Overview of telecoms infringement proceedings
For more information on the January infringement package decisions, see MEMO/13/22
For more information on EU infringement procedures, see MEMO/12/12
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