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Competition

PR(99)19: EFTA Surveillance Authority launches Sectoral Inquiry into telecommunication

13.9.2002

The EFTA Surveillance Authority has decided to start a broad investigation in the territory of the EFTA States covered by the EEA Agreement regarding certain aspects of the telecommunications sector. This is the first sector inquiry ever launched by the Authority. 

The Authority's decision reflects its desire to conduct a parallel inquiry to the one currently being carried out by the European Commission across the European Union (Commission press release IP/99/786). 

The Authority decided on 1st December 1999 to open inquiries into the telecommunications sector relating to:

  • the provision and pricing of leased lines;
  • mobile roaming services; and
  • The provision of access to and use of the residential local loop.

For practical reasons, the Authority will assess these three areas in three phases, starting with an inquiry into leased lines.  The other two inquiries will follow. 

The aim of the Authority's inquiry is to establish whether current commercial practices and prices infringe the EEA competition rules, in particular the prohibition of restrictive practices and abuses of dominant position (Articles 53, 54 and/or 59 of the EEA Agreement). 

For the purpose of this inquiry, the Authority's Competition and State Aid Directorate will send out extensive formal requests for information pursuant to Chapter II to Protocol 4 of the Agreement between the EFTA States on the Establishment of a Surveillance Authority and a Court of Justice (the "Surveillance and Court Agreement"). As part of the first phase of its inquiry, the Authority plans to send questionnaires shortly to national telecommunications regulators and incumbent telecommunications operators in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, to new entrants that provide and/or purchase leased line services, as well as to a number of big business users of leased lines. Depending on the assessment of those replies, the Authority may decide at a later stage to open formal proceedings where it finds practices or prices that constitute infringements of the EEA competition rules. 

Background

Under Article 12 of Chapter II of Protocol 4 to the Surveillance and Court Agreement, the Authority may initiate general inquiries into those sectors of the economy where it believes competition might be restricted or distorted within the territory covered by the EEA Agreement. The aim of this provision is to allow the Authority to investigate suspicious pricing structures or other practices indicating a possible anti-competitive situation across a whole industry. No indications are required that specific companies have infringed the provisions of the EEA Agreement. 

Once the Authority has decided to start such an inquiry it has the powers to request and obtain all necessary information from Governments and competent EFTA State authorities as well as from companies. For instance, Article 11 of Chapter II of Protocol 4 to the Surveillance and Court Agreement empowers the Authority to obtain all necessary information from companies and associations thereof whether or not they are suspected of any infringement of the EEA competition rules. 

Pursuant to Article 15(1)(b) of Chapter II of Protocol 4 to the Surveillance and Court Agreement, the Authority may fine companies or associations thereof where they supply incorrect information upon a request (Article 11(3) and (5) or Article 12) or do not reply within the deadline set by an Article 11(5) decision.

For further information please contact Ms. Anny Tubbs, telephone (+32) 2 286 18 57 or Mr. Harald Evensen, telephone (+32) 2 286 18 55 of the Competition and State Aid Directorate.

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