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Regulatory framework for telecoms in the EU today

07 September 2009
by inadim -- last modified 07 September 2009

The EU legal framework for regulating telecommunications services has been developed with the aim of developing a better-functioning internal market for telecommunications networks and services. Last revised in 2002, this framework is currently being updated to take account of developments in this fast-moving field.


In the Information Society, the boundaries between telephone, internet, television broadcast and mobile phone services are becoming blurred, even irrelevant. Indeed, frontiers between EU Member States have also lost much of their significance when it comes to these services. The regulatory approach to the different services has also had to converge. In 2002, the European Union adopted a new regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services, covering all forms of fixed and wireless telecoms, data transmission and broadcasting. The regulation of the content carried by such services is, however, dealt with under separate rules.

In the internal market, telecoms operators and service providers have the right to set up and offer their services throughout the EU. Encouraging and enabling them to take advantage of those rights boosts the overall quality of telecoms services for consumers, and reduces the prices they have to pay for them. The EU’s regulatory framework aims to promote free and fair competition, which will boost Europe’s economy by supporting every area of activity which relies on telecoms, and create a strong telecoms industry in Europe. Consumers will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

Market access

The 2002 Autorisation Directive did away with the system under which EU Member States issued individual licences to network and service providers as a means of regulating the communications sector. That process, under which providers were required to obtain prior permission and provide proof of having fulfilled numerous conditions, created unnecessary bureaucratic bottlenecks for the free provision of communications services.

In its place, the Directive requires Member States to establish a general authorisation for all types of electronic communication services and networks, including fixed and mobile networks and services, data and voice services, broadcasting transmission networks and services, etc.

Although this general authorisation may include one or more legislative acts, Member States can no longer demand that a service provider obtain explicit administrative authorisation before starting business. Authorities may ask to be notified of a company's intention to start business, in order to keep a register, but the service provider does not have to wait for a reply to this notification, nor should they be asked to provide more information than necessary for the identification of the company.

The general authorisation system also significantly improves the transparency of the regulatory regime and avoids unnecessary and confusing duplication of conditions that are not specific to the electronic communications sector. The Directive stipulates that all relevant information on rights, conditions, procedures, charges, fees and decisions is to be published in a way that makes it easily accessible for all interested parties. Any changes should also involve prior consultation with interested parties.

Rights of way

Because providers of communication networks need to install infrastructure such as cables, antennas and masts, often on public buildings or land, the 2002 regulatory framework requires public authorities to consider all rights of way requests without delay and in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner, in order to ease and accelerate the process of infrastructure deployment.

Radio waves

Europe's Information Society increasingly wants to use wireless communications devices, whether for convenience or to keep up whilst on the move. But the radio spectrum which all such devices use to communicate is crowded. The limited number of available frequencies need to be shared out fairly between many users, ensuring no interference between devices and services. Under the framework, the EU is harmonising spectrum allocation policies between Member States. The switch to digital television broadcasting is freeing up valuable spectrum, enabling new services, such as mobile television to be developed, but coordination at EU level is critical if such services are to develop effectively.


The past decade or two has seen a revolution in television and radio broadcasting. Where once choices were restricted to a small number of channels received on a dedicated box, viewers and listeners today often have difficulty managing the wealth of channels available. Delivery routes have multiplied, and computers and even mobile phones are increasingly used to view or listen to broadcasts. EU action in this field is encouraging rapid switchover to digital television and take-up of mobile television.

Source: European Commission

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