Connectivity and cyber security report

European Electronic Communications Code

eolas magazine outlines the main components of the European Union’s new European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), a move to create a single telecoms market across Europe.

Recognised as an overdue modernisation of the European Commission’s telecoms regulatory framework, last revamped in 2009, the EECC was part of the Digital Single Market strategy and part of the wider connectivity package proposed by the Commission in September 2016.

The existing framework has been unable to establish a single market for telecoms networks and services and currently Europe has maintained fragmented separate national markets.

These fragmented markets have served as a barrier to cross-border telecoms offerings and investments given the inconsistencies in the implementation of the regulatory framework in member state law and inconsistency in applying those laws by national regulatory bodies.

The new EU Directive, which must be transposed into national law within two years of its formal adoption in December 2018, provides updated rules for traditional mobile and fixed telecoms services providers and regulates for new online communication. It also seeks to move away from the perception that the existing framework was burdensome in regard to the fast roll-out of new high-speed mobile (5G) or fixed networks.

In summary, the EECC aims to drive investment in 5G and new fibre networks and create a level playing field between telecommunications companies and the over-the-top providers (OTTs).

According to the European Commission, the main provisions of the Directive are:

Clear and inclusive rules: the same rules will apply all over Europe with a vision of an inclusive single market;

Higher quality of services: the Code will foster competition for investments, in particular in next generation networks — 5G, meaning higher connection speeds and higher coverage;

Competitive prices: by multiplying the offers available and bringing more capacity, the prices are expected to go down; and

Consumer protection: the Code proposes a regulatory approach which allows all actors, from traditional telecom operators to online players, to provide interpersonal communication services with the same level of protection for the end-user. That means that, ‘electronic communications services’ will also cover services provided over the internet such as messaging apps and email (also known as ‘over-the-top’ or ‘OTT’ services.

However, there are already criticisms that the Directive has not managed to fully achieve the vision originally set out in its creation. For example, in relation to market dominance, operators will continue to be designated as having significant market power by national regulatory authorities and subsequently face additional obligations. The code sets out that if operators invest in high capacity networks that obligations can be relaxed through agreement with the national regulator. The move was designed to encourage investment however, a shift from original proposals of 25-year spectrum licenses and a peer-review system to 20-year spectrum licenses with no review, has increased uncertainty and could inhibit the deployment of 5G.

Another compromise on the original proposals appears to be in the area of inclusion of OTTs. While included, many number-independent interpersonal communications services will be subject to a ‘like for like’ rule, where regulation will depend on the features their services provide and will not be subject to the general authorisation regime, which traditional telecoms operators have pointed out does not create the level playing field envisaged.

The Commission’s vision to bring about strict harmonisation of the rules around awarding 5G spectrum have also had to be curtailed. Member states have given a political commitment to coordinate on 5G spectrum release in return or less stringent conditions.

Included in the Directive’s provisions are rules governing what information retail telecoms service providers need to provide in consumer contracts and which restrict the contractual period the companies can require consumers to sign up. The Directive will also require national authorities to “conduct a geographical survey of the reach of electronic communications networks capable of delivering broadband”.


Timeline

2017

25 April
The European Council adopts a decision ensuring the release of high-quality airwaves for wireless broadband services in all EU member states. This measure is considered essential to boosting mobile connectivity and introducing 5G technology.

8–9 June
Telecommunications ministers held a policy debate on the reform of the EU telecoms rules. The discussions focused on the desired degree of EU coordination to achieve the ambitious connectivity goals.

18 July
Telecommunications ministers signed a 5G declaration confirming their willingness to position Europe as the global lead market for 5G.

11 October
The Council granted the Estonian presidency a general mandate to begin negotiations with the Parliament on new rules for the electronic communications sector.

24 October
The Council upholds 2020 goal for 5G spectrum

4 December
Council agreed its position on updating the rules for the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communication (BEREC), paving the way for negotiations with the European Parliament.

2018

29 June
EU ambassadors approved a comprehensive set of new rules for the European electronic communications sector.

2019

21–22 March
EU leaders agreed that a strong economic base is of key importance for Europe’s prosperity and competitiveness. To this end, the European Council called for action by the EU and its member states to include developing the digital economy. EU leaders also look forward to the European Commission’s recommendation on the security of 5G networks.

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