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EU close to agreement on telecom law changes

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European Union lawmakers are close to agreement on how to update a package of telecom laws in light of recent advances in technology, European Commissioner Viviane Reding said Wednesday.

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"About 95 percent of the package has been agreed," she said after the latest negotiating round between the Commission and the two lawmaking bodies of the E.U. -- the European Parliament and the Council of national governments -- which ended late Tuesday evening.

Prospects for a quick conclusion to the talks were dashed earlier this month when it appeared negotiations has all but collapsed. Blame for that breakdown was levelled at the Czech government, which holds the rotating six-month presidency of the E.U. Reding praised the Czech negotiators Wednesday, saying they now shared the will for the talks to succeed.

The changes aim to improve regulation of the telecom market, make the distribution of radio spectrum more efficient and encourage the development of so-called next generation fibre optic teelecom networks. They also seek to ensure citizens' privacy in the online world and to make sure that essential communications channels are available universally to all.

Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media, didn't specify what hurdles remain but she said she is "confident that a deal is within reach if all sides make a small last effort."

Her confidence was echoed by Malcolm Harbour, a Member of the European Parliament involved in the negotiations. "We are making progress all the time, working through all elements in the package," he said.

Reding expects a breakthrough at a meeting of the three institutions next Monday. Harbour thinks it will take a little longer but said he is sure there will be a compromise in the coming four weeks.

The Commission, Council and Parliament are trying to agree a compromise before the teelecom package is put before a plenary meeting of the European Parliament at the end of April. If they succeed the changes can be rubber-stamped before the Parliament dissolves for elections in the summer.

Failure to agree the changes by then will mean a delay of at least six months while the new Parliamentarians get up to speed on the dossier.

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