On 20 December 2018, the new European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) entered into force, aiming to encourage the substantial infrastructure investment required to achieve 5G rollout and gigabit connectivity. The EECC also consolidates existing European rules on electronic communications networks and services, and aligns them with recent technological developments in the field. The EECC must be transposed into national law by 21 December 2020. This means that we will see a number of material changes in communications legislation in the Baltics.
Key issues which the EECC addresses:
- Ensuring effective management of the radio spectrum by EU Member States: to encourage investment in high-capacity harmonised networks, the EECC obliges EU Member States to ensure that radio spectrum holder rights are valid for at least 15 years with a possibility for extension.
- Facilitating market entry for new operators: the EECC implements the “use it or lose it principle” with respect to withdrawal of radio spectrum licences. It also facilitates shared use of mobile frequencies (e.g. based on national roaming) by the respective mobile network operator and other mobile providers.
- Introducing exemption from access remedies: aiming to encourage investment in new high-capacity networks, the EECC creates a possibility of exemption from access remedies for market players with “significant market power” (SMP). Exemption is possible if an SMP operator engages in building these networks and enters into a co-investment arrangement with a competitor. This arrangement only applies to optical fibre and is subject to various conditions defined in the EECC. These exceptions will be based on binding commitments by an SMP operator that must be accepted by the respective national regulatory authority.
- Sharing civil infrastructure for installing small area wireless access points: EU Member States must ensure operator access to street furniture (e.g. lamp posts, street signs) for the installation of wireless access points on fair and non-discriminatory terms and prevent competent authorities from requiring individual permits for deployment of access points. These measures will enable investment in 5G networks by lowering the cost of network deployment through enhanced sharing of civil infrastructure.
- Including interpersonal communication services in the regulatory regime: the EECC broadens the scope of regulation to include all interpersonal communication services in addition to those conveying signals. This means that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and chat services such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger or Skype now fall under the definition. However, the full level of regulation imposed on traditional telecom service providers, such as ensuring that their services are secure, will only apply to phone number-based services and not to number-independent ones.
- Enhancing consumer rights: already from 15 May 2019, retail prices (excluding VAT) for intra-EU communications may not exceed EUR 0.19 per minute for calls and EUR 0.06 per SMS message. EU Member States must also ensure that all end-users have affordable access to broadband and voice communications for at least 30 mbps. The EECC reinforces consumer protection by safeguarding consumer rights to provider switching and portability, enabling consumers to terminate all elements of the service package when there is ground to terminate any element of a bundle of services due to lack of conformity with the contract or failure to supply.
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