Electronic Communications Services

Independent Regulation and Competition

The EU has sought to introduce competition into the provision of electronic communications. The liberalisation also extends to directories, telephone enquiries, frequencies, TV, satellites and cable networks.

A regulatory framework for electronic communications has been established.  The principal purpose is to facilitate market entry. The EU rules establish a harmonized framework for the regulation of e-commerce networks and services. Member states must ensure that the regulatory authorities are independent and legally distinct of all organisations providing electronic communication networks equipment and services.

There must be mechanisms to allow users or providers of electronic communication networks or services to appeal to an independent body in the event of a dispute with the national regulatory authority. The national regulatory authority must exercise their powers impartially and transparently.  The national authorities and the European Association of Regulators must cooperate to determine the instruments and the appropriate solutions to ensure the internal market in electronic communications.

The regulators must ensure that authorised providers provide maximum benefit in terms of choice, price, and quality.  Regulators must contribute to the development of the internal market by encouraging the establishment and development of the Trans-European Networks and interoperability of Pan-European Services.  They must cooperate with each other and with the European Commission to ensure consistent regulatory practice and the application of the regulatory framework for the telecommunications sector.

Regulatory bodies must ensure that there is access to the universal service. There must be simple and inexpensive dispute resolution procedures. There must be high levels of protection of personal data and privacy. National regulatory authorities must control the assignment of national numbering resources.  They must establish transparent and non-discriminatory procedures to grant rights of use.

The European Union has established arrangements to provide links between national regulatory authorities in the area of electronic communications.

Authoring Electronic Communications Providers

There are provisions for the grant of authorisations to use electronic communications networks  for services. The rules apply to the granting of rights to use radio frequencies which involve the provision of an electronic communication network or service.  The purpose of the harmonised rules is to establish a harmonised market in the EU and to limit regulation to that which is strictly necessary.

Each member state must provide for a general authorisation for providers of electronic communications networks and services.  Further administrative consents or decisions are not required to undertake activities under the authorisation.

 General authorisations give businesses the right to provide electronic communication networks and services and negotiate interconnection with other EU providers where they are authorised to provide services to the public.  The general authorisation is to make them eligible to provide certain universal service functions.

Rights to use the radio frequencies may be subject to conditions with a view to avoiding harmful interference

  • ensuring technical quality of service
  • safeguarding the efficient use of a spectrum
  • ensuring general interest objectives

Decisions on the right to use must be made within certain minimum periods. The types of conditions that may be appended to the general authorisation are limited.  They may include

  • financial contribution to fund the universal service
  • conditions on the use of the radio spectrum
  • restrictions concerning broadcasts of illegal content
  • imposition of administrative charges, obligations to transmit certain TV and radio programs
  • rules on privacy protection and protection of minors
  • accessibility and portability of members
  • interoperability of services and interconnection of networks

National regulatory authorities monitor and supervise compliance with the requirements under the general authorisation.

Dominant Operators to Share Facilities

Member states may require undertakings operating electronic communication networks to share facilities or property.  This is appropriate when there is limited access to resources due to the need to protect the environment, health or public safety or when it is not possible to replicate the infrastructure.  The arrangements may include rules apportioning the cost.

Where markets are not competitive, undertakings of significant market power may be subjected to regulatory obligations. Businesses which are vertically integrated must not discriminate in favour of their own entities or activities.

The EU Commission may publish a list of non-compulsory standards, for harmonisation of electronic communications, networks, and facilities.  The standards may be made mandatory if necessary.

Disputes between the providers of electronic communications networks and services and/or undertakings benefiting from rights of access or interconnection are resolved by the national regulatory authority.  It must issue a binding decision within four months.  If there is a cross-border aspect, the matter may be referred to the European body of regulators.  Penalties must be provided for infringement of the directive.


The access directive provides rights and obligations for businesses seeking interconnection or access to the provider’s networks. There must be no restrictions which prevent businesses in the same state or different states negotiating between themselves regarding access or interconnection.

Network operators have rights and obligations in relation to interconnection agreements in relation to the communication networks. Operators have the right and when requested by other undertakings so authorised, the obligation to negotiate interconnection with each other for the purpose of providing publicly available electronic communication services.

Regulators must assess whether businesses have significant market power.  If this is the case, then the regulator may impose according to the circumstances;

  • obligations of transparency in respect of interconnection
  • access for other to specified information such as technical specifications and network characteristics.
  • obligations not to discriminate
  • obligations of accounting separation in relation to particular activities concerning interconnection
  • obligations of access to and use of specified network facilities

Operators may be required

  • to give third-parties’ access to certain network facilities including unbundled access for the local loop
  • to negotiate in good faith with businesses requiring access
  • not to withdraw access facilities granted
  • to grant open access to technical interface protocols and key technologies that are necessary for the interoperability of services
  • to provide collocation in little forms of associated facility sharing

Obligations may be applied in relation to cost recovery and price controls.

Obligations may relate to the separation of functions so that vertically integrated businesses may be obliged to place the wholesale division providing the relevant access, in an independently operating business entity in order to supply access products and services including those to other entities within the group on the same terms and conditions.

If market failure continues after these obligations are implemented, the regulator may impose an obligation on an undertaking to place activities relating to the provision of services in an independently operating entity.  If the entity is dominant, they may transfer the local access network to another undertaking.

Further Removal of Obstacles

A 2014 directive seeks to reduce the cost of deploying high-speed electronic communication networks.  Its purpose is to facilitate and promote the roll-out of high-speed digital networks, i.e. fast broadband.  Two approaches are offered.  One involves the reuse of existing physical infrastructure, and the other the creation of conditions for the more efficient installation of new infrastructure.

States must remove legal obstacles that hold back network operators from giving telecom operators access to their physical infrastructure.  Network operators must give access to the physical infrastructure on reasonable terms including price.  Network operators include providers of public communication networks, but also other utilities such as energy, water, wastewater and transport providers.

Legal obstacles which impede negotiation and agreement between network operators and telecom operators must be removed. Publicly financed network operators must meet reasonable and timely requests for coordination of works and arrangements,  provided that the extra cost is paid for by the telecoms operator.

States must ensure that undertakings using broadband have access to a minimum amount of information about the existing infrastructure including its type and location.  There must be a single information point. The provision of information is designed to ensure that costs are kept to a minimum.  Access may be limited by reason of the security of the network,  their integrity, public health or safety, national security, confidentiality and business secrets.

States must ensure that all procedures for granting permits are available through a single information point preferably in electronic form.  Permit decisions must be made within four months.  Refusals must be justified fully.

New buildings and major renovations must be equipped with a physical infrastructure capable of hosting high-speed network.  Communications must have an access point easily accessible by providers of public communications networks.  This must be done in a technology neutral way. There are provisions for exemptions such as for monuments or holiday houses.

Providers must have the right to reach the access point under fair and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions.  There must be out of court procedures for timely resolution of disputes under the directive.

Rights of Users I

EU member states must ensure that electronic communication services set out in the universal services directive are made available to all users in the territory regardless of the geographic location at a specific quality level on affordable price terms.  Users are entitled to request to a connection to the public telephone network at a fixed location on affordable price terms.

The connection must enable users to use voice,  and other data communication at a data rate sufficient to permit functional internet access. The provision may be restricted to the end user’s primary residence.  There should be no constraints on the technical means by which the connection is provided.

At least one comprehensive directory which is updated yearly must be available to end-users.  This one directory enquiry services must be available to end-users including users of pay telephones.

Regulators must be able to impose obligations to ensure public pay telephones or access points to publicly available telephones to meet the needs of end-users.  Member states must ensure that disabled users enjoy a service which meets their needs and is equivalent to those enjoyed by other users.  The access must be at the same functional level as for other users and may be by different means.  Member state can require their regulators to assess the general meeting specific requirements of the measures for disabled end users.

Each state may designate one or more businesses to guarantee the provision of the universal service.  Different businesses may be designated to provide different elements of the universal service or to cover different parts of the country.

The state must ensure that consumers with low incomes are enabled to have access to the network and use it.  Undertakings which have universal service obligations may be required to comply with price caps or apply common tariffs including geographical averaging throughout the country.

In order to compensate for the costs of the provision of the universal service, a compensation mechanism for operators with universal service obligations may be provided for.  This may involve compensation from public funds or a mechanism to share costs between providers of electronic communications networks or services

National regulatory authorities must impose obligations on retail services identified as not being effectively competitive.  This includes the obligation not to charge excessive prices, inhibit market entry or restrict competition by setting predatory prices.

Rights of Users II

The users of electronic telecommunications services have a number of rights including

  • the provision of operator assistance and a directory service enquiry
  • publication by businesses which offer publicly accessible electronic communication services of comparable adequate and up-to-date information on the quality of their service
  • the setting of minimum requirements in relation to quality of service
  • provision by operators of up-to-date information on applicable prices and tariffs
  • the right to conclude a contract with one or more businesses or consumer subscribed to services providing connection to the telephone network. The contract must provide for minimum specified information

The single European emergency call number must remain free of charge.  (112)

There are provisions to facilitate the change of providers to the retention of telephone numbers when service providers are changed.

The regulators must take account of the views of end-users, consumers and manufacturers, and undertakings such as businesses that provide electronic communications in networks or services.

There must be simple, transparent, non-discriminatory, inexpensive, out of court procedures to deal with unresolved disputes regarding universal services obligations.  A system of reimbursement and/or compensation must be provided for.

The Radio Spectrum

States must cooperate with each other and the Commission to implement the planning coordination and harmonisation of the radio spectrum in the EU.

The regulatory authorities manage radio frequencies for electronic communication services.  They must be allocated on the basis of transparent non-discriminatory and proportionate criteria.  Businesses which intend to transfer the rights to use the frequencies must notify the regulatory authorities who must ensure that competition is not distorted.

Certain restrictions are permissible on grounds of:

  • interference,
  • public health
  • the technical quality of service
  • the maximisation of frequency sharing
  • efficient use of the spectrum

Terminal Equipment

There are regulations aimed at facilitating competition in relation to telecommunications terminals. Exclusive rights may not be granted in respect of the importation marketing connection bringing into service or maintenance of telecommunications terminal equipment.

The connection of terminal equipment may not be refused unless it does not comply with the essential requirements of the EU Legislation.  The equipment must comply with certain common technical standards. Providers must publish the technical specifications for terminal equipment and interfaces to which equipment will be connected.

Exclusive or special rights granted by states for the establishment or provision of electronic communication networks or provision of publicly available electronic communication services must be abolished.

EU states must guarantee businesses the right to provide services or exploit networks without discrimination in accordance with a general authorisation scheme. Only a reasoned opinion on the part of the regulator within the framework of a general request for authorisation may prevent the undertaking from providing services or networks.

There are rules to promote competition in radio equipment and telecommunications terminal equipment.  States must ensure that the apparatus complies with the essential requirements of the directive.  These provide for standards relating to health and safety, security, electromagnetic compatibility, use of the spectrum.

Where the apparatus confirms with the harmonised European standards in accordance with specified procedures, the standards are presumed to have been met.  Apparatus’ complaint with the essential requirements should bear the CE conformity marking.

Member states must not prohibit or restrict or impede the putting in the market when the apparatus is compliant with the essential requirements.  States may restrict putting into service of radio equipment only for reasons relating to the efficient and appropriate use of the radio spectrum, to avoid harmful interference or by reason of public health issues.  There are procedures from which manufacturers may choose for assessing conformity with their essential requirement.

Transmitting Equipment / Mobile Phones

There is a 2014 directive on putting radio equipment on the market.  The rules seek to keep pace with the growing number of radio equipment devices and ensure that they do not interfere with each other in respect of essential health and safety requirements.  There are additional provisions for market surveillance, to track and monitor products which fail to comply with the essential requirements.

The directive applies to equipment which emits and receive radio waves for locational speed and equivalent purposes and for communication purposes.  It accordingly includes mobile phones.

The directive sets out requirements which apply to manufacturers, importers, and distributors.  Before products might be put on the market or imported into the EU, they must meet the essential requirements.  They seek to protect the health and safety of the persons and domestic animals.

There are provisions seeking to protect personal data and provides protection against fraud, access to emergency services and features to assist persons with a disability.

The Commission has been granted powers to require the compatibility to chargers and essential requirements for mobile phones.  They may make provision for the Interoperability of radio equipment and accessories.

Further Mobile Phone Measures

A 2012 regulation seeks to boost competition in the market for mobile phone, text messages and internet access while travelling to the EU.

Under EU data roaming rules, there have been reductions in the price caps that are to be paid for roaming services within the EU.  Persons travelling outside the EU are to receive a warning text message, email or pop up when they come close to receiving €50 of data downloads or the pre-agreed levels.

Consumers may choose a separate roaming contract before they travel.  Consumers should be enabled to compare roaming offers.

From 1st July 2014, roaming customers pay no more than €0.19 per minute to make a call, €0.05 per minute to receive a call, €0.06 to send a text message and €0.20 per megabyte to download the data or browse the internet while travelling within the EU.

An EU directive 2010 seeks to create a framework on the deployment of intelligent transport systems in the field of road transport and interfaces with other modes of transport.  The purpose is to speed up responses from emergency services to car crash victims.

The aim of the e-call is to bring a rapid assistance for a vehicle involved in a serious accident anywhere in the EU.  It is activated automatically as soon as the vehicle sensors detects the serious crash.  The system dials the European emergency number 112 and sends details of the accident to rescue services including time, accurate position, and direction of travel.  It may be triggered by pushing a button on the car by the passenger or witness.

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