The European Commission is poised to take legal action against EU states whose former telco monopolies have failed to open the local loop to competition, such as BT.

Erkki Liikanen, commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, said today "there is no reason to delay" local loop unbundling. This unbundling is essentially the opening up of the 'last mile' of copper telephone wires between local telephone exchanges and homes to competitive business.

The EU passed a law at the beginning of this year forcing member states to open up the local loop to competition. Liikanen turned up the heat, saying: "We can force member states to liberalise the last mile."

Earlier this week 13 telcos, including KPNQwest, Energis and Worldcom, wrote to the EC complaining that incumbent telcos are failing to allow new entrants fair access to the telephone lines that lead directly to people's homes and to businesses.

The companies said in their letter that prices for access to the local loop varied across Europe by as much as 300 percent and that delivery times were showing "extraordinary deterioration".

For example, in Germany it can take up to nine months for a competitor to activate an ADSL (aynchronous digital subscriber line) connection for a customer, they said. They also said that in the UK competitor access is complicated by "exorbitant migration charges".

Liikanen acknowledged these complaints, saying that the problem is not only about anticompetitive pricing by the incumbents, but also the long delays they impose on leasing lines to competitors.

"Those countries that are slowest to liberalise [the telecommunication infrastructure] are paying high costs," Liikanen said. "Those countries also see lower internet penetration."

Liikanen would not divulge which member states were the worst offenders. He said that more details would be forthcoming next week when the EC publishes its annual report on the process of telecommunication liberalisation in the EU.

Liikanen said that high-speed internet access across ADSL lines has developed during the year. "The incumbents have been very active in developing ADSL, but some competitors cannot get there."