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UK.gov outlines plans to comply with new EU telecoms rules

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The Government has outlined the changes that will need to be made to laws and regulations so that the UK complies with the new EU telecoms rules passed last year.

The Government has said that the UK already complies with many of the new or changed rules, but that it will give telecoms regulator Ofcom new powers to demand more sharing of telecoms infrastructure and to impose minimum quality of service standards on telecoms operators.

"Electronic communications are vital to our working and daily lives," said Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey in a consultation document on the changes. "In an increasingly digital world we rely on mobile and fixed line phone services, e-mail and internet – it is hard to imagine life without this important sector."

Vaizey emphasised that the Government plans to do no more than is necessary to make only the changes explicitly demanded by the new EU rules. "The Government is committed to improving conditions for business by reducing the regulatory burden in the UK wherever possible. We will ensure that our transposition is proportionate and does not gold plate the Directives," he said.

"Implementing these changes should bring about better investment opportunities and encourage greater competition and innovation amongst electronic communications providers," said Vaizey. "Consumers should benefit from improved choice of supplier and contract terms, strengthened rights on privacy and confidentiality, faster switching processes and improved accessibility. Ultimately, everyone should benefit from access to higher quality and lower cost communications services."

The Telecoms Package of reforms was passed in late 2009 after legislative wrangling between the European Commission, which wanted more centralised regulation of telecoms, and the European Parliament, which wanted nations to retain regulatory powers.

A compromise was reached by which national regulators will engage in closer co-operation on pan-EU regulation, but by which no central regulator independent of member states will be set up.

The revised EU rules require countries to enable telecoms regulators to force more sharing of telecoms infrastructure.

"Infrastructure sharing is consistent with the Coalition Government’s policy to reduce the barriers to the deployment of superfast broadband," said the Government consultation. "As up to 80% of the costs involved with the roll out of superfast broadband can be in the civil works, if the need for works can be reduced, the business case becomes much more attractive."

Telecoms regulator Ofcom already has the power to demand that infrastructure sharing take place, but the Government said that it will broaden this power.

"We intend to implement Article 12(1) [of the EU rules] by amending section 73(3) of the Communications Act to allow access conditions to require infrastructure sharing in all cases where such a requirement would be proportionate, rather than only in cases where there is no viable alternative," it said.

It also said that it will empower Ofcom to demand more information on infrastructure owned by companies so that, over time, a detailed UK plan of existing infrastructure can be built up.

The Government said that it would also give Ofcom the power to ensure that a minimum quality of service was delivered by all telecoms operators.

"A new provision [of the EU rules], Article 22(3), enables, but does not require, Ofcom to impose minimum quality of service obligations on electronic communications network and service providers," said the consultation. "Grounds for doing this include preventing the degradation of service and hindering the slowing down of traffic over networks. Again, this is linked to concerns around traffic management and net neutrality."

"We propose to implement the changes to Article 22(3) through a minor amendment to the Communications Act to give Ofcom the necessary power. On 24 June 2010, Ofcom published a consultation document on traffic management, where it states that its likely initial view would be to explore existing competition tools and consumer transparency options before considering using these powers," said the consultation.

The consultation closes on 3 December.

See: The consultation (74-page / 377KB PDF)

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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