After a legislative procedure lasting more than two years (see our earlier alert), the European Union has finally published its new “European Electronic Communications Code” (EECC). It provides updated rules for providers of traditional mobile and fixed telecoms services, establishes regulations for new online communications services and aims at further harmonizing a single European telecommunications market.
The EECC will enter into force December 20, 2018. However, as it’s an EU Directive, there will be no immediate legal effect on telecoms companies. The EECC must be transposed into the national law of each of the 28 - or, following Brexit, 27 - EU Member States within the next two years.
While the EECC is rather specific on most of the issues, Member States still have some leeway regarding the implementation of the Directive’s rules. So it remains to be seen whether the EECC will actually lead to the single telecoms market envisaged by the Commission, and this leeway still leaves room for network operators and service providers to argue for more favorable rules on a national level.
Adopting the EECC was part of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy. It was also seen as a long-overdue modernization step for the European telecoms regulatory framework, that had not undergone any major amendments since 2009. The existing framework has failed to lead to a European single market for telecoms networks and services. Instead, the sector has remained fragmented into separate national markets. In addition, the inconsistent implementation of the current regulatory framework into Member State law, and the equally inconsistent application of the law by the national regulatory bodies, resulted in regulatory uncertainty, especially for cross-border telecoms offerings and investments.
The current framework also provides uncertainty regarding the application of its rules to new business models. In many Member States, it was - and still is - disputed whether over-the-top (OTT) communications services should be regulated in the same manner as traditional telecoms services. Further, the existing framework for the regulation of industry players with large market power is often perceived to be burdensome with respect to the fast roll-out of new high-speed mobile (5G) or fixed networks.
Key Issues addressed by the EECC
To address these issues, the EECC provides for the following new rules:
For a quick overview over the OTT-specific aspects of the EECC, please refer to our infographic that can be downloaded here.