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Licensing and authorisation

Licences/authorisations required

What licences/authorisations are required to provide telecoms services?

Licences for telecommunications services have been abolished in principle. Therefore, a telecommunications service provider is obliged to notify only the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), which in turn registers the provider upon such notice. The amended Federal Act on Telecommunications (TCA), which is pending, will remove such notification obligation. There is no licence required for public Wi-Fi services as long as these services remain within the authorised frequencies and fulfil the technical requirements.

Licences, however, are mandatory for the use of mobile radio frequencies and the provision of universal services. Accordingly, the use of frequency spectrum for the provision of telecommunications services today requires a licence. With the envisaged revision of the TCA, however, a paradigm shift in the regulation of the use of mobile radio frequencies is planned and, as a principle, frequency spectrum shall be used freely in the future within the limits of specific statutory regulations.

Procedure

What are the eligibility, documentary and procedural requirements to obtain a licence/authorisation?

Eligibility, documentary and procedural requirements depend on the kind of licence required.

Any person providing a telecommunications service must:

  • have the necessary technical capacities;
  • comply with the applicable legislation, in particular the TCA, the Federal Act on Radio and Television and the relevant implementation provisions;
  • comply with employment legislation;
  • guarantee the working conditions that are customary in the sector; and
  • offer an appropriate number of apprenticeships. As outlined above, certain foreign ownership restrictions may apply.

Notifications can be submitted online via OFCOM’s website.

Any person wishing to obtain a universal service licence must also:

  • have the necessary technical capacities;
  • furnish convincing proof that the universal service can be offered, particularly with regard to finance and the operation of the service for the entire duration of the licence;
  • state what financial compensation will be required for doing so;
  • undertake to comply with the applicable legislation, in particular the TCA and its implementing provisions and the licence conditions; and
  • undertake to comply with employment legislation and to guarantee the working conditions that are customary in the sector.

With the exception of the armed forces and civil defence within the scope of their duties, any person wishing to use frequency spectrum must obtain a licence. Such licence can be acquired only by a person that has the necessary technical capacities and undertakes to comply with the applicable legislation, in particular the TCA, the Federal Act on Radio and Television, their implementing provisions and the licence conditions.

Frequency licences are issued post-allocation of new frequencies either by criteria competition or, more commonly, by frequency auction. Licences, therefore, are granted only if, having regard to the national frequency allocation plan, enough frequencies are available.

As outlined above, certain foreign ownership restrictions may apply and a licence transfer, in whole or in part, is possible only with the consent of the licensing authority (ie, the Swiss Communications Commission or OFCOM). This applies also to the economic transfer of a licence.

Validity period and renewal

What is the validity period for licences/authorisations and what are the terms of renewal?

According to the TCA, licences for radio communications and universal services are of limited duration. In 2012, licences for frequency spectrum were allocated in a public tender procedure. It is planned to auction additional frequencies, particularly for the introduction of the next-generation network 5G in 2018. All licences are issued in a technology-neutral manner. The licences allocated in 2012 will expire at the end of 2028. For the frequency licences to be issued in 2018, the validity periods shall be 15 years, or 10 years for some frequencies. The universal service licence for Swisscom was renewed for the period 2018-2022 (ie, five years).

Fees

What fees apply?

The licensing authority charges administration and licence fees for radiocommunication licences. No licence fee is charged on radio licences for the distribution of licenced radio and television programmes under the Federal Act on Radio and Television. Additionally, the Federal Council may exempt specific organisations and persons as set out in the TCA, such as federal authorities and public bodies and institutions, the Cantons and the municipalities, provided that they use the frequency spectrum only for tasks that have been assigned exclusively to them for performance, public transport companies, etc.

The Federal Ordinance on Telecommunications Fees lays down the radio licence and administrative charges in the field of telecommunications law. The charged rates for administrative fees are set out by the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications in its Ordinance on Administrative Charges in the Telecommunications Sector.

The amount of the radio licence fee is calculated according to the allocated frequency range, the frequency class and the value of the frequencies, the allocated bandwidth, the spatial extent, as well as the temporal use. To cover the cost of granting or amending a licence, a one-off fee is charged at an hourly rate (currently Sfr210) depending on the time required. However, no fee is charged for changes of address and name or for cancellations.

The costs of managing a licence granted and of technical control of the frequency spectrum is covered by an annual management fee. Its amount depends on the type of licence – that is, the licence fees are further subdivided, for example, into directional radio, wireless broadband or satellite transmission, land mobile radio, etc. The annual administrative fee – for instance, for the supervision of registered telecommunications service providers and for the management of their data – is Sfr960 per provider.

Timeframe

What is the usual timeframe for obtaining a licence/authorisation?

The timeframes for obtaining a licence or authorisation depend on the telecommunications services to be provided. If a mere notification procedure applies without the granting of a licence, such notification can be effected via the Internet within a very short period of time (ie, within hours). In this case, a telecommunications service provider can conduct its business as soon as the notification is filed. With regard to the universal licence or where frequency spectrum is to be used, a frequency licence must be obtained post-allocation either by criteria competition or, more commonly, by frequency auction – that is, in a process that overall can last several weeks or even months.

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