On 14 September 2016 the Commission unveiled an ambitious overhaul of EU telecommunications law. The proposed reforms are the centrepiece of what the Commission is calling its “Connectivity Package”.

This is a bundle of legislative proposals and related initiatives released under the Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy whose common goal is to dramatically increase the speed and geographic coverage of high quality internet connectivity across the EU over the course of the next decade.

What are the reforms trying to achieve?

The Commission hopes that the Connectivity Package will enable the EU to meet three high level strategic objectives by 2025: (i) that European households should have a download speed of at least 100Mbps: (ii) that schools, universities, public service providers and businesses relying on digital technologies should have download and upload speed of 1Gbps; and (iii) that all urban areas as well as major roads and railways should have uninterrupted 5G coverage.

The Commission estimates that meeting these targets will require €500 billion of investment in network infrastructure over the next decade, and predicts that on current investment trends there will be a €155 billion shortfall. The proposed changes to the EU’s telecommunications regulatory framework that lie at the heart of the Connectivity Package are, in part, designed to re-calibrate the current legislation to better encourage investment in network infrastructure to plug this gap.

A European Electronic Communications Code

The Commission first announced its intention to revise the EU’s telecommunications regulatory framework in May 2015, under Pillar 2 of the DSM strategy. No legislative proposals have appeared until now, with other strands of the DSM making progress in the meantime.

The most ambitious reform is a proposed Directive to create a single new overarching law: the European Electronic Communications Code. The draft Directive amends and merges into the new Code the four Directives that comprise the EU’s legal framework governing the provision of telecommunications networks and services (the Framework, Access, Authorisation and Universal Service Directives). The Directive is accompanied by a Staff Working Document and an Impact Assessment.

The draft Directive and its annexes run to 300 pages in length, and it is impossible to summarise their contents here. However, in announcing the Directive, the Commission picked out the following themes:

  • Simplification and adaption of existing rules to stimulate investment: for example the circumstances under which price control obligations may be imposed on network providers with significant market power will be narrowed. Network providers that co-invest in new network infrastructure, or that build private networks for wholesale services, will benefit from lighter access obligations.
  • OTT communication services are to be regulated: providers of OTT communication services that use telephone numbers will be subject to some of the laws that apply to traditional telephony services, whilst providers of OTT services that communicate without numbers will be subject to some telecommunication laws.
  • Stronger consumer protection – the reforms include proposals for clearer contracts for customers, and importantly basic broadband access at an affordable price is to become a universal service.
  • New rules relating to radio spectrum licensing – minimum licence durations of 25 years and more coordination of the timing of spectrum assignments are two of the more prominent items here.

What else was announced?

The proposed telecommunications regulatory reforms are only one part of the Connectivity Package. The complete list of what was announced is as follows:

  • the proposal for a Directive creating a new European Electronic Communications Code, with accompanying Annexes can be found here;
  • a Communication and Staff Working Document on “Connectivity for a Competitive Digital Single Market – towards a European Gigabit Society“;
  • an Action Plan (with accompanying Staff Working Document) to deploy 5G in the EU
  • an updated Regulation that revamps and gives new powers to the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC);
  • a new Regulation to support local communities in providing free public Wi-Fi to their citizens (WIFI4EU)

We will be back with a detailed analysis of some of these legislative proposals soon.