Good evening Mr Chairman, Vice-Chairmen, Directors, and Delegates,
I am particularly honoured to host this reception this evening, on the occasion of the XIIth ETO Administrative Council and XXVth ECTRA Plenary. I would like to begin by welcoming you to Paris and thanking you for joining us, both personally and on behalf of the College of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.
This meeting is highly significant for ART, as it is the first time, since the creation of the French Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, that I have had the pleasure of meeting representatives from two institutions which play a vital role in regulatory co-operation in Europe - ETO and ECTRA.
So if you will allow me, I would like to make some brief introductions. As we will be working together, I think that it is important for us to get to know each other better. The French Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was created just over a year ago, on 5 January 1997, in order to prepare for the 1st January 1998 deadline and to implement full competition conditions, in accordance with European Union legislation. ART is an independent regulator, comprising five governing members appointed for a non-renewable six year term.
The 1996 Telecommunications Act set out the legislative framework and the conditions governing its implementation and laid down the responsibilities of the telecommmunications minister and the telecommunications regulatory authority.
According to this framework, the minister is responsible for laying down the regulatory ground rules and for allocating licences for public networks and the telephone service. He represents France in international bodies and during international negotiations, and in this capacity is head of the French delegation within the CEPT and ECTRA.
For its part, ART is in charge of setting out the technical and financial conditions governing competition on the telecommunications market. Its ensuing responsibilities include processing licence applications, allocating operators number and frequency resources, and controlling universal service funding and interconnection issues. ART is also an arbitrator, which may be called upon to settle disputes and may impose fines and administrative penalties.
Since ART was created, it has focused its work on preparing for the arrival of competition. The French telecommunications market has been open to full competition for two months now, and I think that we have accomplished our first mission, as the conditions necessary for a competitive environment are now in place in our country, thanks to the combined action of the ministry and ART. The regulatory framework is in place; the licensing process is under way, with several licences already issued - including for national coverage; and the technical conditions necessary for competition have been established: carrier selection and number portability, interconnection arrangements and the universal service funding mechanism.
Actions undertaken respectively by ART and ministry staff, combine at international level, where the minister is supported by ART's technical competence and expertise. We thus participate in a broad range of ITU work, in particular on standardisation issues. We also maintain close relations with the European Commission and are involved in preparing France's position in Community and international discussions.
The French Telecommunications Regulatory Authority thus participates alongside the Directorate of Posts and Telecomunications, in ECTRA project teams and plenaries and ETO meetings, thus playing an active role in European regulatory debates.
ART has translated its commitment to this work into action by proposing a candidate to chair the ECTRA Project Team on Numbering, the chairmanship of which is to be renewed during this plenary session. I am delighted to propose our candidature, which illustrates the role that ART has to play in representing France at European level.
I would like to conclude by underlining the importance of your work during this ECTRA Plenary. In the light of upcoming international negotiations, I am fully aware of how significant these meetings are, for all European countries. To take two examples:
First, one item on the agenda of your Plenary session concerns preparations for the ITU meetings: the Forum on World Telecom Policy in Geneva, next week, and the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Malta the following week. As the WTO agreement came into force at the beginning of February, it has become especially important for European countries, including those outside the European Union, to agree on a common framework, to defend their positions within international institutions. For this reason I am glad that all European countries have the opportunity to share in the responsibilities and work carried out within ECTRA governing bodies and project teams.
UMTS is another issue where a common approach between European countries is necessary. With GSM technology, Europe is in a good position to prepare for the next generation of mobile communications. Two important milestones have been reached, with the proposal for a decision adopted by the European Commission on 11 February, setting out the timetable and regulatory framework for the introduction of UMTS, and the agreement on the UMTS radio interface concluded during the ETSI meeting in Paris on 28 January. These two decisions will favour a unified approach by European countries during negotiations within the ITU. I know that this issue will be on the agenda of the joint meeting between ECTRA and ERC on 14 April next. I hope that this meeting will be the occasion to consolidate European positions, which is evidently our common concern.
Once again, I would like to thank you for joining us here this evening, and for all the work you are undertaking. I now propose that we have a drink together, as this is one of the best ways of becoming acquainted.