Spain govt to guarantee legal right to broadband

MADRID, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Spanish citizens will have a legal right from 2011 to be able to buy broadband internet of at least one megabyte per second at a regulated price wherever they live, the country’s industry minister said on Tuesday.

The telecoms operator holding the so-called “universal service” contract would have to guarantee it could offer “reasonably” priced broadband throughout Spain, said Miguel Sebastian in a statement sent to media.

Former state monopoly Telefonica TEF.MC has always held the universal contract aimed at protecting consumers in poorly populated areas from being cut off in cases where operators would otherwise consider providing the service unprofitable.

The service also subsidises telecoms to disabled users.

Until now, the “universal service” has only guaranteed internet via telephone line, fixed telephone, directory service and telephone booths.

Earlier this month, Spain's telecoms regulator, the CMT, proposed that Telefonica, Vodafone VOD.L and Orange FTE.PA foot the cost of providing the universal service for 2006, which it judged had cost 75.34 million euros, with Telefonica paying 71 percent of the costs.

Adding internet to the universal service would increase the future cost of the universal service.

The yearly calculations of the cost of the service take about two years to complete.

Consumer group FACUA said it welcomed that broadband internet would finally be a right but said the speed was insufficient and the measure should be introduced before 2011.

“FACUA calls on the minister to speed up the measure, increase the speed and to set a reasonable price,” the organisation said in a statement.

Reporting by Sarah Morris