New Roaming & Internet Rules

Consumers will be guaranteed reduced roaming costs, content-neutral internet access, and other protections under new rules just proposed by the Commission.

The overall objective of the legislative package is to create a single market for electronic communications in which: (i) citizens and businesses could access electronic communications services wherever they are provided in the EU, without cross-border restrictions or unjustified additional costs and (ii) companies providing electronic communications services would operate and provide them wherever they are established or their customers are situated in the EU.

The package includes: 1) a Proposal for Regulation on Telecoms Single Market; 2) a Recommendation on Costing Methodologies and Non-Discrimination and 3) a Communication explaining the context of the Telecommunications Single Market.

Proposed Regulation on Telecoms Single Market

Single EU Authorisation

Under the current framework, operators wanting to provide services in other Member States must be authorised in each of them.

The proposal would introduce a single EU authorisation which would allow operators to provide electronic communications networks and services in the whole Union. The EU authorisation will be based on a single notification system in the Member State of the main establishment of the European electronic communication provider (the home country).

According to the single EU authorisation, European electronic communications providers would submit a single notification to the national regulatory authority of the home Member State before starting their activity. This notification would include a declaration of the intention to start providing electronic communications services and would provide certain information, including the name and legal form of the provider as well as the Member State(s) where the services are intended to be provided.

The proposal provides that the national regulatory authority of the home Member will be the competent authority to withdraw and suspend the Single EU authorisation. Holders of a single EU authorisation will be entitled to equal regulatory treatment in similar situations within and across Member States, while new entrants and smaller cross-border operators would be exempted from administrative charges and contributions to the universal service financing in Member States other than the home country (host countries).

Roaming

OUTGOING CALLS: Providers of electronic communications will not be allowed to charge more a fixed call from one Member State to another than they do for a long-distance domestic call. Concerning intra-EU mobile calls, the price could not be more than €0.19 per minute (plus VAT).INCOMING CALLS: As of 1 July 2014, roaming providers will not be allowed to charge their roaming customers for calls received from another Member State.In addition, the proposal introduces a voluntary mechanism for mobile operators, who will be able to enter into bilateral or multilateral roaming agreements allowing them to internalise the wholesale roaming costs and to gradually introduce roaming services at domestic price levels up to July 2016.

Consumer Rights

INFORMATION REQUIREMENTS FOR CONSUMERS
Before signing a contract with a consumer on a publicly available electronic communications network, the providers should provide information on a number of key issues, including: 
(a) identity, address and contact information of the provider
(b) the main characteristics of the services provided
(c) the time for the initial connection
(d) details of prices and tariffs (for consumers including taxes and possibly due additional charges) as well as payment methods offered
(e) the duration of the contract and the conditions for renewal and termination
(f) any charges related to switching and portability of numbers
(g) the type of action that might be taken by the provider in reaction to security or integrity incidents or threats and vulnerabilities

CONTRACT TERMINATION
Contracts concluded between consumers and electronic communication providers cannot provide for a minimum duration that exceeds 24 months. Consumers will have the possibility to conclude a contract with a maximum duration of 12 months.

Under the provisions of the proposal, consumers would have the right to terminate a contract with a one-month notice period, provided that a minimum period of six months has passed since the conclusion of the contract. Consumers will not be required to provide any compensation for the termination of the contract apart from: (a) the residual value of subsidised equipment offered with the contract at the moment of the contract conclusion and a (b) pro rata temporis reimbursement for any other promotional advantages marked as such at the moment of the contract conclusion.

SWITCHING OF PROVIDERS AND PORTABILITY OF NUMBERS
The proposal introduces provisions that aim to facilitate the switching of providers, when the consumer wishes to do so.

According to the new rules, the receiving provider would be the one that would lead the switching and porting process. Consumers would receive information on switching before and during the switching process, and also immediately after it is concluded.

The proposal also requires providers of electronic communications to compensate consumers when they delay or abuse switching, including by not making available information necessary for porting in a timely manner.

Consumers would also be able to keep the same telephone number even if they change their telephone provider.

Virtual Broadband Access Products

 Today, virtual fixed access products (virtual unbundling, IP bit-stream and terminating segments of leased lines) are defined in a variety of manners across the EU.

The proposal would intend to harmonise virtual access to fixed networks to provide cross-border services by: (1) Defining common features of EU-harmonised virtual broadband access products, when mandated on operators with significant market power, such as being considered as high quality products anywhere in the EU or having the capacity to serve consumers on competitive terms and (2) Ensuring a right for electronic communications providers to offer and access on reasonable terms harmonised connectivity products with assured service quality to enable new types of online services.

Open Internet Access (Net Neutrality)

Providers of internet access services will not be able to block, slow down, degrade or discriminate against specific content, applications or services. According to the proposal, users will be free to access and distribute information and content, run applications and use services of their choice via their internet access service, regardless of the cost or speed of their internet subscription.

Providers will also be able to offer specialised services (such as IPTV, video on demand or virtual operating theatres) to end-users provided that the quality of service is ensured.

Recommendation on Costing Methodologies and Non-Discrimination

The proposal for a Regulation is accompanied by a Recommendation, which aims to: (a) harmonise costs that incumbent operators may charge for giving others access to their existing copper networks (b) ensure that "access seekers" have truly equivalent access to networks.

The equivalent access can be achieved by ensuring that incumbent operators offer access to internal and third-party access seekers on the same terms and conditions, including price and quality of service levels, within the same time scales using the same systems and processes, and with the same degree of reliability and performance.

Communication on the Telecommunications Single Market

The third element of the package, a Communication on the Telecommunications Single Market, outlines the existing barriers in the market, including different price calls and rules in Member States as well as differences in the timing, the conditions and the costs of procedures for acquiring spectrum chill investment.

In its Communication, the Commission announces that it will prepare a revision of its Recommendation on relevant markets to ensure that regulatory burden on operators are reduced.

Next Steps

The proposal for Regulation will now be sent to the European Parliament and the Council following the ordinary legislative procedure.

The Communication and the Recommendation will also be sent to the European Parliament and the Council. The institutions may decide to formally respond to them in the coming months.