EU HOPES TO AVOID OVER-REGULATING INFO SUPERHIGHWAY

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BRUSSELS-Europe hopes to develop a regulatory framework covering several areas to speed, rather than block, its journey on the information superhighway.

The European Union seems uncharacteristically eager to avoid over-regulation. A 35-page report on the information superhighway presented at the Corfu European Council of Ministers last month by Industry Commissioner Martin Bangemann was surprisingly pro-industry. But the report touches on so many areas-such as telecommunications, multimedia, TV and mobile communications-that experts believe regulation could take years to go into effect.

One suggestion, unusual for a Commission report, was that advertising should be a source of revenue for these ventures.

The pro-industry stance may stem from the makeup of panel preparing the report, a group of 20 EC administrators and executives from Philips Electronics, Siemens, Volvo, IBM Europe and others. The report indicates that the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, wants to avoid introducing regulations to accommodate the strictest member countries' laws.

The report suggests that member states permit telecommunications competition "through a unified regulatory framework to pave the way for private investment in pan-European information highways."

"The future is all about globalization. Once these products are out there, there isn't any room for separate regulations" between countries, said EC Communications Administrator Jean Bergevin.

Advertisers worry about the regulatory framework. Regulation at national levels often tightens restrictions on ads and the free movement of goods, preventing a single market.

The report warns that Europe tends to overprotect individuals' rights at the expense of business.

"The question to ask is whether this is a creation for the whole EU or a more fragmented and much less effective amalgam of the individual initiative by member states," Mr. Bangemann said.

Mr. Bergevin said because advertising should not be curtailed, "The information superhighway must be commercially funded. ... If advertising is limited to what it can say or do, then the technology won't be developed far enough to reach the consumer."

Others believe the EU is moving too quickly. Pierre Paulger, deputy administrator responsible for regulating the content of the communication services, said, "We aren't sure that the Big Bang will happen and change the world as we know it."

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