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EU Telecoms Council

The Minister for Industry and the Regions (Alun Michael): I chaired the Telecoms part of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council of the UK's EU presidency in Brussels on 1 December 2005.

The Council began informally over lunch, where I chaired a policy debate on the 2006 Review of the regulatory framework for Electronic Communications markets. The Council agreed that the Framework plays a key role in the development of open and competitive ICT markets. There was broad consensus that its implementation needs to be improved and that the Review of the Framework is a high priority for 2006. I was pleased that the Council gave a steer on the key issues for the Review. These included the importance of competition and investment in next generation networks, ensuring a light-touch regulatory approach and the importance of the needs of consumers.

The policy debate then continued in formal session with a focus on the future of EU spectrum policy. The Council agreed that spectrum is a valuable economic and social resource and that its management needs to be more flexible and efficient. However, views were divided about the role that market-based mechanisms and harmonisation should play in determining spectrum policy. There was broad support for further discussion and analysis on this important issue, particularly in light of the spectrum which will be released by the switchover from analogue television.

I then chaired a policy debate on the Commission's i2010 Strategy. This was a public open session. I reported on the successful events held as part of our presidency,
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including the gathering of Chief Executives on 8–9 July and the i2010 and e-accessibility conferences held in London on 6 September and 21 October respectively. Evidence from the Disability Rights Commission prepared for the second of these conferences showed that websites that failed to meet the e-accessibility standards were 50 per cent. more difficult for all individuals to use, demonstrating that accessibility is an economic issue as well as an equalities issue. There was broad support for the i2010 Strategy and its three objectives to promote open and competitive markets, to strengthen ICT research and to achieve an inclusive information society. The Council discussed particular priority areas within the i2010 Strategy's three themes. These included the need for appropriate policy actions in the regulatory field, on broadband and content and on e-government and e-accessibility. There was agreement that the i2010
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Strategy needs to be implemented effectively if its contribution to the Lisbon agenda is to be realised. I am pleased to report that at the end of this debate the Council adopted Council Conclusions on the i2010 Strategy and on e-accessibility.

The Council also adopted Conclusions without debate on the subject of the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. These Conclusions highlight the intention of Member States to complete the switchover, as far as possible, by the end of 2012.

Finally, I reported on the successful outcome on internet governance at the World Summit on Information Society and I highlighted the key role of the EU under our presidency in facilitating the compromise position. The agreement reached will provide a sound basis for delivering enhanced co-operation, and the response from the Commissioner and the Council was very positive indeed.