Service neutrality in the allocation of scarce resources

  • Phone numbers. Users value the price information that phone numbers can provide (for example, by distinguishing between local and national calls, or fixed and mobile calls). The service information that is sometimes implied by phone numbers is becoming less and less meaningful as service features and variations develop and location becomes less meaningful (e.g., with the advent of VoIP and increasingly national “flat rate” call tariffs). As well, the distinctions between fixed and nomadic services, or between nomadic and mobile services, are becoming blurred. In these circumstances, the allocation of phone numbers could become service-neutral but could depend, for example, on tariff categories or price ceilings chosen by service providers, instead of on the services themselves. These categories might cut across traditional service classifications.
  • Radio frequencies. The policy intention in the EU is that owners of rights to use particular radio frequencies should be technology-neutral and service-neutral: they should be allowed to use any technology to provide any service (whether fixed, nomadic or mobile, and whether voice, data or multimedia), with some exceptions. Exceptions to technology neutrality might be needed to ensure proper sharing of generally authorised spectrum, avoid harmful interference, or limit exposure to electromagnetic fields. Exceptions to service neutrality might be needed to implement audiovisual policy, promote cultural, linguistic and media diversity, establish services with coverage through the EU or ensure safety of life. Evidently the policy intention will only be fulfilled over time, as existing radio frequency allocations to particular services are reclaimed.
  • Rights of way. Construction permits, granting rights to negotiate access across land, need not be concerned with whether the service to be carried by the cables is voice, data or multimedia. In fact, the nature of the service is likely to change over time, as new applications develop and new customers emerge, so construction permits should be service-neutral.

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