General Authorizations in the EU Regulatory Framework

The ICT licensing regime in the European Union has evolved from one based principally on the issuance of individual licences to a regime premised on issuing general authorizations.  Pursuant to Directive 2002/20/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on the authorisation of electronic communications networks and services (“Authorisation Directive”), member states must replace the issuance of individual licences with general authorizations.  Member states may maintain a special scheme for allocating frequencies and numbers, however.

The Authorisation Directive stipulates that persons wishing to provide electronic communications services or to operate electronic communications networks may only be required to submit a general notification.  Member states are not permitted to require such persons to obtain an explicit decision or any other administrative act by the national regulatory authority.

Ofcom, the ICT regulator in the U.K., has published an excellent summary of the EU general authorisation regime on its website.

Minimum rights derived from the general authorization

The general authorisation gives undertakings the right to provide electronic communications networks and services and to negotiate interconnection with other providers in the European Community.  When such undertakings provide electronic communications networks or services to the public, the general authorisation makes them eligible to be designated to provide certain universal service functions.

Conditions attached to the general authorisation and to specific rights of use

The general authorisation and the rights of use may be subject only to the conditions listed in the Annex to the Directive relating to:

·        financial contributions to funding of the universal service;

·        interoperability of services and interconnection of networks;

·        accessibility and portability of numbers- portability means that users have the option to keep their telephone number when they change operators;

·        rules on privacy protection and, more specifically, the protection of minors;

·        the obligation to transmit certain television and radio programmes ("must carry");

·        environmental and town and country planning requirements; 

·        the possible imposition of administrative charges on undertakings; and  

·        restrictions concerning the broadcast of illegal content.

 Implementation of the Authorisation Directive

According to the Authorisation Directive, Member States were required to adopt and publish the laws, regulations, and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the Directive by 24 July 2003 at the latest.  Although the requirements of the Authorisation Directive are the same for each Member State, each country has developed its own form and procedures for obtaining a general authorisation.  For example, Ireland, Finland, and Norway have each established its own authorization regime based on the Authorisation Directive.  The laws and regulations of each of these countries are examples of how a general authorisation regime might be structured in a country with a mature ICT market.

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