EU Telecoms Reform Package [1]

The original rules governing the telecoms sector in the EU were agreed in 2002. They did not lead to a common market in telecoms. Only a few operators providing pan-European services emerged and national regulators implemented the EU framework different ways. The internal market was fragmented so that operators had to package their services in different ways in different Member States and satisfy different regulatory requirements each time.

On 4 November 2009, an agreement on the EU Telecoms Reform was reached by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers after two years of discussion during the legislative process. The new rules need to be transposed into national laws of the 27 Member States by June 2011.

Among the reforms was the establishment of BEREC (Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications) [2] which replaced the European Regulators Group (ERG), a loose cooperation between national regulators. BEREC met for the first time in January 2010.

Other key reforms included the right to impose functional separation on carriers [3] and plans to harmonise radio spectrum usage among Member States. European consumers will also benefit from new rights, such as the right to switch fixed or mobile operator in one working day while keeping their number; the option of signing a contract which lasts no longer than 12 months and a 24 month cap on all contracts; as well as clearer information of tariff and pricing structures; and the right to be informed about breaches of data privacy.

A proposal that would have allowed national authorities to kick internet users offline for illegally downloading copyrighted material without going to court was amended on privacy grounds so that  “national authorities cannot restrict internet access for public policy reasons unless there has been a prior, fair and impartial procedure and effective and timely judicial review.”

Under the new EU rules, national telecoms authorities will also have the power to set minimum quality levels for network transmission services so as to promote “net neutrality” for European citizens.

  

Endnotes:

[1] From http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/ecomm/tomorrow/index_en.htm

[2] See http://berec.europa.eu/eng/about_berec/what_is_berec

[3] The 2002 Framework did not explicitly provide for the possibility of NRAs imposing the remedy of functional separation on SMP operators. The 2009 Better Regulation Directive introduced functional separation as a non-standard remedy. Unlike standard remedies which are subject to the Articles 7 and 7a of the Framework Directive procedures, the remedy of functional separation is subject also to a prior approval procedure.  The revision to the Framework also anticipates voluntary separation by an SMP operator. The two provisions are set out in Articles 13a and 13b of the Access Directive. The EU definition of functional separation is restricted only to access services defining is as “an obligation on vertically integrated undertakings to place activities related to the wholesale provision of relevant access products in an independently operating business entity.  That  business  entity shall  supply  access  products  and  services  to  all  undertakings,  including  to  other business  entities  within  the  parent  company,  on  the  same  timescales,  terms  and conditions,  including  those  relating  to  price  and  service  levels,  and  by  means  of  the same systems and processes”  (Article 13a, emphasis added).

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