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Industry Report: European Policy

The Telecoms Package – Where do we go from here?


The Telecoms Package – Where do we go from here?

- On 20 November the Council of EU Ministers unanimously approved the EU's telecoms reform package. This set of legal instruments will henceforth set out the basis for the regulation of Europe's electronic communications networks and services.
The review of the so-called “telecoms package” has been underway since 2005 and last week’s adoption of the final texts represents a major milestone in adapting the European legislation of the audiovisual sector to the dizzyingly rapid technological and structural changes in the various industries involved.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

The latest IRIS plus report by the Strasbourg-based European Audiovisual Observatory: Communications Regulation: Between Infrastructure and Content examines the reform of the telecoms package which lead up to its final adoption and looks at current and future parameters within the telecoms industry on which this just adopted reviewed legislation - now to be transposed - will have a bearing.

The author of the leading article, Sebastian Schweda of Saarbrücken’s Institute of European Media Law (EMR), opens his report by looking at the proposed reform and its implications for the access to distribution networks. Kicking off with a look at the reforms concerning spectrum policy, Schweda points to increasing policy coordination at EU level in order to reinforce cooperation between Member States. He also feels that the reforms enhance the protection of the social and cultural values of broadcasting which should therefore be reflected in spectrum policy and management.
The report moves on to deal with the question of increased interoperability of networks and services (such as those offered via IPTV or via internet alone) which is clearly high on the reform agenda. The new provisions also offer clarity on investment protection for infrastructure operators who invest in new high speed technologies and their commercial exploitation. For example, under the new rules “the IPTV platform of a vertically integrated company may no longer be the only one whose services can be offered via the company’s own high-speed infrastructures… in return, however, competing providers may be obliged to carry part of the investment risk”.

The report then looks at conditions of access to reception, given that access to information transmitted via electronic communications networks and services is enshrined in the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights. For the first time, the reform attempt to provide a definition of network neutrality: in other works the equality of the conditions under which a network transmits its content to the end user, regardless of the nature of the content. This part of the reform is very much in the interests of the consumer, as are the new provisions concerning access restrictions. For the first time, a minimum quality of service requirements is laid down for public network operators. The author points out that this provision is intended to prevent operators from deliberately reducing the quality of certain services, for example by slowing down data traffic in order to discourage the use of certain applications. Schweda states that “such obstructions are often blamed on insufficient bandwidths or the increased cost of carrying large quantities of date. However, strong competition-related interests often lurk behind restrictions [..] allegedly imposed for (purely) technical reasons.”

The author concludes this report by pointing out that the impact of the reformed telecoms package will largely depend on how the various different member states transpose the amended provisions into national law and, of course, how they implement them. Schweda feels however that the audiovisual industries would be well advised to keep an eye on further developments in the legislation of the electronic communications field, as far-reaching discussions on who will benefit from the “digital dividend” as well as the “digital divide” lie ahead and the outcomes will be of vital importance for the audiovisual industries.

This latest IRIS plus report also includes a related reporting section with articles which have a strong contextual bearing on the abovementioned leading article. The first four pieces deal with various national responses to the European Commission’s withdrawal of its recommendation concerning the ex ante regulation of broadcasting transmission services for the delivery of content to end users. Further articles cover recent developments in case law concerning the must-carry obligation enshrined within Article 31 of the Universal Service Directive. The final articles give a useful overview of the process of adoption of the French Hadopi Act and the questions raised by this French response to illegal downloading for the final adoption of the Telecoms Package.

The practical ZOOM section at the end of the publication gives a valuable list with contact URLs of the various national authorities responsible for regulating the communications market. A recapitulative table provides direct links to the actual texts which form the basis for the authority as well as the most relevant laws regulating the communication of audiovisual content in each country.

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