Intellectual property/telecommunications: Carrier preselection and number portability

United Kingdom
Carrier preselection and number portability

The Commission has tabled a Proposal for carrier preselection and number portability. It is hoped both will be available by 1 January 2000.

Carrier preselection allows users to use other service providers than their local operator, for instance for their long distance and international calls, by dialling a short prefix before every telephone call. Users can directly choose the service which is the cheapest and the best. Eventually consumers will have the option to select alternative service providers, so that their calls will automatically be routed through their chosen service provider without dialling extra digits.

Number portability allows users to retain their telephone number when switching the subscription for their telephone line to another operator. This is an important facility in a liberalised telecommunications market: it has been shown that consumers are unwilling to switch to alternative operators if this involves the inconvenience of a new telephone number.

Meanwhile, the much-trumpeted liberalisation of EU telecommunications occurred on 1 January 1998. Already, the Commission is planning infringement proceedings against Member States that have not opened up their telecoms markets. Most countries have implemented the necessary legal framework, but serious gaps remain. For example, Belgium has merely drafted but has not put into place legislation abolishing Belgacom's special or exclusive right to provide telephone services.