Tomorrow (25 May) new EU rules to ensure more competition on the telecom market and better services for customers will take effect. Among other things, users should be able to switch operators in one day without losing their existing number and enjoy better protection of their online personal data, according to the European Commission.
New oversight powers for the EC and regulatory powers for the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) will create more regulatory certainty and help telecoms operators to grow in a single, pan-European telecoms market.
Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda said,
"Citizens and businesses should take full advantage of the opportunities these new rules give them to get more competitive telecoms services. I will do my utmost to help them to do so. If these rights are not made available in practice, I will take the measures necessary to fix that situation vis-à-vis Member States and telecoms operators."
The new rules ensure that citizens and businesses benefit from higher levels of consumer protection and more choice; improved online privacy and safety; and more consistent regulation across the EU.
Higher levels of consumer protection and more choice, comprising:
- The ability to switch fixed or wireless phone operators without changing phone number within one working day;
- A maximum length of 24 months for customer's initial sign-on contracts and an obligation on operators to offer 12 month contracts. This will allow customers to switch more easily to a different operator if they find a better deal;
- Clearer information on services to which a customer is subscribed. Consumer contracts must give information about minimum service quality levels. In particular, internet subscribers must be given information about traffic management techniques and their impact on service quality, as well as any other limitations (such as bandwidth caps, available connection speed or the blocking or 'throttling' of access to certain services such as Voice Over Internet Protocol). Contracts also must give details of compensation and refunds available if these minimum levels are not met.
Improved online privacy and safety, comprising:
- Better protection against personal data breaches and spam, mandatory notifications for personal data breaches;
- Better information and consent requirements for storing or accessing information in users' devices (such as 'cookies' not related to the service currently accessed.
More consistent regulation across the EU
- National regulators will gain greater independence and will have powers, as a last resort, to oblige telecoms operators with significant market power to separate their communication networks from their service branches to ensure non-discriminatory access for other operators (without necessarily separating ownership or obliging the creation of a separate company).
- The commission – in cooperation with BEREC – has also been granted extra powers of oversight on the competition remedies for the telecoms markets (the so-called "Article 7 procedure"). In practice, should the EC consider that a draft competition remedy notified by a national regulator would create a barrier to the Single Market for telecoms services, the Commission can proceed to an in-depth assessment and, in consultation with BEREC, can issue a recommendation to the national regulator to amend or withdraw its planned remedy. NRAs must take utmost account of such recommendations.
- Other new elements in the package include better access to emergency services including 112, Europe's single emergency number.
The commission's Recommendation indicating to national telecoms regulators how they should regulate third-party competitive access to NGA networks was introduced recently on the basis of new elements in the updated telecoms rules.
The EC is closely following the implementation of the new rules by member states and will use its full powers to ensure their full and timely implementation in national law.
To help member states implement the new rules, the commission has produced guidelines on various issues, such as cookies and universal service.