Belgian authorities may soon issue back off Brussels call after the European Commission (EC) has expressed concern regarding proposals by the Belgian regulators to open up broadcasting markets.

Specifically, the EC is asking the Belgian regulators to take full account of market developments in both broadcasting and to a lesser extent broadband and to further substantiate and justify its reasoning with regard to the broadcasting market and its competitive nature.

Currently in Belgium, some four-fifths of households receive their TV services from cable operators. Even though IPTV services have attracted a considerable number of customers, alternative platforms such as satellite, DTT and mobile TV have not managed to gain a strong foothold in Belgium.

In order to provide more choice for consumers Belgian regulators propose in particular to impose on cable operators an obligation to offer alternative broadcasting operators. Belgian regulators' proposals include giving operators the ability to resell their analogue TV programming, to access their digital TV platform and to resell their broadband internet products.

Belgacom would have to give access for competitors to its broadband network and the cable operators, Telenet, Brutélé, Numéricable, Tecteo and AIESH would have to give access for competitors to their cable networks.

Yet the EC expressed a number of concerns about the Belgian regulators' proposals, criticising the regulators' analysis of the broadcasting markets. It has asked the regulators to take better account of market developments in the light of recent entry of competitors into the market, in particular, Belgacom’s IPTV, the trend towards multi-play and converged broadband-broadcasting offers and the proposed regulation of Belgacom.

The Commission further asked the regulators to justify better the proportionality of the obligation on cable operators to provide an analogue resale offer, also in the light of the declining importance of analogue TV. Moreover, the Commission has asked the Belgian regulators to justify the proposed obligation to provide such access also to Belgacom, which is quite successfully developing its IPTV and has a strong presence in the neighbouring telecom markets.

Explained Neelie Kroes, the EC Vice President for the Digital Agenda: “I fully share the objective of the Belgian audiovisual and telecoms regulators to enhance competition for the benefit of the Belgian consumers, who are entitled to more choice and lower prices. However, regulators have to carefully examine market developments and avoid imposing disproportionate obligations on market operators, as this may create unnecessary burdens and ultimately stifle investment and innovation. The Commission has therefore asked the Belgian regulators to carefully examine the competitive conditions in the markets concerned and provide further evidence for their proposed measures".