UPDATE 1-EU acts against 20 member states on telecoms rules

Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:58am EDT

* New rules to protect consumers and enhance services

* Violating countries have two months to make changes

* EU will refer violators to European high court

(Adds further details, quotes, background)

By Christopher Le Coq

BRUSSELS, July 19 (Reuters) - The European Commission began legal action on Tuesday against 20 of the European Union's 27 member states for failing to put telecommunications rules into practice.

The rules include giving consumers the right to switch telecoms operators in one day without changing phone numbers, the right to more information about services and better protection of personal data online.

"The deadline set by the European Parliament and the EU's Council of Ministers for implementing the new rules was May 25, 2011," the Commission said, adding it had written to 20 states asking why the rules had not been fully implemented.

The countries have two months to respond. If they don't reply, or the Commission is dissatisfied with the response, they will be sent a formal request to implement the legislation, and ultimately could be referred to the European Court of Justice.

The member states sent notifications are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

Britain, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden have implemented the rules in full.

The rules are part of a drive by Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner for digital affairs, to bring member states' telecoms sectors better into line and foster more competition among operators, particularly in data delivery.

"It's a priority of the digital agenda for this legislation to be applied in practice as quickly as possible," EU digital affairs spokesman Jonathan Todd told reporters.

The so-called telecoms package was finalised by the EU in late 2009, and member states were given 18 months to transpose it into national law.

While some delays are typical in this sort of European legislative process, parts of the telecoms package have proven controversial, which might account for some reticence.

For example, consumer advocates have criticised the package for not doing enough to prevent telecom operators from favouring certain data passing through their networks.

Another touchy issue has been new online privacy rules that require websites to obtain users' explicit consent before allowing the storage of cookies, small pieces of text that Web browsers use to track usage patterns.

The reform has been resisted by Internet companies, online advertisers and start-ups, who say it will handicap a tool that is central to how the Web operates. [ID: nLDE74T1KX]

(Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris; Editing by David Hulmes)

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