EU passed new telecom rules to promote 5G

The telecom ministers gave final approval to the new European Electronic Communications Code to encourage competition, promote new technologies, as well as protect consumer interests.

It has been a busy couple of weeks in Brussels. The telecom configuration of the Council of the European Union, composed of the government ministers whose portfolios cover telecom, gave the final seal of approval to the European Electronic Communications Code. This came after the European Parliament (composed of elected MEPs) voted in favour of the Code in mid-November, and after a year after the European Council (composed of heads of governments) reached an agreement on the rules.

More than two years in the making, the Code covers mainly four areas: the ubiquitous and unconstrained connectivity; the harmonisation of the competences of national regulatory authorities (NRAs); the harmonisation of spectrum-related issues, and revised rules on services. While harmonisation is the key to regulator operations and the rules governing radio frequencies across all member states, a few specific points stood out:

  • When it comes to 5G, the Code advocates for “binding and enforceable rules for enhancing coordination of spectrum management in the EU with greater focus on adapting spectrum rules to the future 5G challenges”. The European Commission (the executive branch responsible for the day-to-day operation of the EU) and NRAs will “review elements of individual Member States’ planned national assignment procedures which have more impact on market and business developments. Moreover, this option will place greater emphasis on the investment environment for dense 5G networks.”
  • On services, all member states will set up a public warning system to further strengthen the protection of residents. A ‘reverse 112′ system will be put into place send alerts to people’s mobile phones in the event of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or other major emergency in their area. It needs to be in operation within three-and-a-half years of the Code entering into force (see below).
  • On consumer rights protection, the Code will extend the same applicability of the rules to services provided over the internet, for example mobile apps. “Member States will also have to establish rules for compensation in case of misconduct by providers of electronic communications networks or services.”

The Council also approved the new remit of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), the EU-wide telecom regulator. The office is tasked to create “an investment-friendly and pro-competitive framework which will lay the groundwork for the development of 5G across Europe.” New rules on cross-country calls and messages were also passed: the retail price of intra-EU mobile or fixed calls from the consumer’s home country to another EU country will be capped at 19 cents per minute. The cap for intra-EU text messages will be 6 cents per message.

Both regulations approved by the council of ministers are to be signed by the European Council and the European Parliament on 12 December and published in the EU Official Journal on 17 December. Both acts will enter into force 3 days after publication. Member states will have two years’ transition period before the Code needs to be transposed into national laws.

The Council also reviewed the progress of the ePrivacy Regulation. The proposal is aimed to aligned with GDPR and to cover applications such as instant messaging, VoIP, and other web-based communication tools. In November the telecom ministers agreed to delay the vote on the bill, which means the regulation is unlikely to be adopted before the next European election in May 2019.