Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte T.D, today approved an extensive package of telecommunications Regulations which turn EU rules into Irish law.
Announcing the decisions the Minister said “This is a significant update to the Irish and European rules through which we manage our telecoms market. They will strengthen competition. consumer and privacy rights and should boost the level of trust in using electronic communications.”
“For example, under one of the new rules a consumer who wishes to change their mobile phone provider will be able to transfer his or her number within one working day. While Ireland fares very well compared to many of our EU counterparts when it comes to the speed at which a consumer can transfer his or her number from one provider to another, the certainty offered under the revised framework copper-fastens the consumer’s protection against unnecessary disruption to their telephone service when changing service providers” said the Minister.
Twelve important reforms have been identified as being at the centre of the revised regulatory framework. As well as being able to change provider within one working day, the Regulations ensure that consumers are fully informed of their rights through minimum requirements for information to be included in a contract. The Regulations lay the ground work for better access to emergency services, particularly for disabled end-users, specification of minimum quality of service standards by the Regulator etc. A summary of the 12 reforms is appended below.
The new regulations, which come into effect today, also provide for mandatory notifications in respect of personal data breaches and will ensure that users are better informed in terms of the storage of their personal information on websites through the use of “cookies” and other technologies. “It is essential that the personal information of users is protected against accidental or deliberate disclosure and I believe the enhanced data protection provisions in the new Regulations will act as an incentive to better protection of personal data by holders of such data. Furthermore, it is important that users are informed when their information is stored on a website and the purposes for which the information is being stored” said the Minister. “I believe that the provisions set out in the new Privacy Regulations, which will be primarily enforced by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, will achieve an appropriate balance between the protection of consumer interests and the interests of industry for effective and innovative services. I know the Commissioner welcomes the introduction of these rules.
The Minister noted that, by coincidence, today also marks the completion of a separate EU Regulation to reduce the costs of making and receiving calls when abroad in the EU roaming costs.
Note to editors:
The revised Framework comprises of two EU Directives, the Better Regulation Directive and the Citizens’ Rights Directive, which amend the existing Framework, Access, Authorisation, Universal Service and Users’ Rights and Privacy and Electronic Communications Directives which have been transposed into Irish law since 2003. The revised regulatory framework introduces new requirements which will result in a number of changes for both industry and consumers.
In the interest of ensuring that the legislation governing the sector is as clear and user friendly as possible, the Regulations signed by the Minister today, in addition to transposing the requirements of the Better Regulation and Citizen’s Rights Directives, consolidate the provisions of the existing Regulations (introduced in 2003 and amended in 2007) governing the sector.
Responsibly for enforcing the provisions of these Regulations will fall primarily to the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) although the Office of the Data Protection Commissioners will be responsible for ensuring that the privacy and data protection provisions are adhered to.
Further information including the text of the five Regulations can be accessed here http://www.dcenr.gov.ie/Communications/Communications+Policy/
Main Provisions of the Revised Regulatory Framework
The following twelve important reforms have been identified as being at the centre of the revised regulatory framework.
· Change provider in 1 day – provision has been made to ensure that a consumer can port a number from one service provider to another within one working day.
At present some customers can face unacceptable delays when changing from one service provider to another. Under the new Regulations [Regulation 25 of the Universal Service Regulations], customers will be able to do make such a change within one working day. In addition, under this Regulation, the maximum initial duration of a contract entered into by a customer with an operator can be no greater than 24 months and operators are obliged to offer customers the possibility of agreeing to a contract with a maximum duration of 12 months.
· Consumer Information: minimum quality of service levels – additional provisions have been included to ensure consumers are fully informed of their rights, including minimum requirement in relation to information to be provided in a contract.
The new Regulations ensure that customers will receive better information on the services to which they are subscribing. The Regulations [Regulation 14 of the Universal Service Regulations] specify the minimum information which must be provided in a contract entered into between a customer and operator. Such information includes, inter alia, information on access to emergency services, caller location information, minimum service quality levels offered (including the time for initial connection), types of maintenance service and customer support offered, and any compensation or refund arrangements which apply if contracted service quality levels are not met.
· Citizens rights: relating to internet access (new internet freedom provision) – This provision was inserted into the Directive at the request of the European Parliament and explicitly states that any measures taken by Member States regarding access to or use of service and applications through telecoms networks must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens as are guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
· Neutral net: minimum quality levels – provision has been made to allow the Regulator to specify minimum quality of service standards, e.g. in relation to connectivity.
Internet service providers have powerful tools at their disposal to allow them to differentiate between various data transmission on the Internet, such as voice or “peer to peer” communication. Even though such traffic management may allow premium high quality services to develop and can help ensure secure communications, the same techniques may also be used to degrade the quality of other services to unacceptably low levels or to strengthen dominant positions on the market. Accordingly, the new Regulations give the Regulator the powers to set minimum quality levels for network transmission services in order to promote “net neutrality” and “net freedoms” for citizens.
· Consumer Protection: data breaches – enhanced provisions have been included in respect of requirements to notify personal data breaches.
The privacy of European citizens is a priority in the new telecoms framework. Names, email addresses and bank account information of customers of telecoms and internet service providers must be kept safe from accidental or deliberate disclosure. Operators must respond to the responsibility that comes with processing and storing such information. Accordingly, the new Regulations [Regulation 4 of the ePrivacy Regulations] provide for mandatory notifications in respect of personal data breaches. This will increase incentives for better protection of personal data by providers of electronic communications networks and services. In addition, the rules concerning the use of “cookies” or similar devices to store information are strengthened. Internet users will be better informed about “cookies” and about what happens to their personal data. Users will also be given the opportunity to consent to the storing of personal data by internet providers. The enforcement of both these provisions will be the responsibility of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner which intends to issue guidance documents in relation to the implementation of these provisions.
· Emergency Services: new technologies and disabled access – provision has been made to require undertakings to ensure that disabled users can access emergency services equivalent to that of other users.
The new Regulations ensure better access to emergency services by extending the access requirements from traditional telephony to new technologies, strengthening operators; obligation to pass information about caller location to emergency authorities and by improving general awareness of the European emergency call number “112” [Regulation 20 of the Universal Service Regulations]. In addition, the provisions in relation to access to telecoms services by person with disabilities have been strengthened to ensure that they can benefit from the same usability of services as other persons [Regulation 6 of the Universal Service Regulations].
· Independence of National Regulatory Authorities strengthened – the powers and objectives of the Regulator have been strengthened through the Regulations.
· BEREC (European body of Regulators): consistency of regulation across all 27 Member States – the establishment of BEREC is part of the revised regulatory framework and it is considered that this will ensure a more consistent approach to regulation of telecommunications across all Member States.
This is considered a very important tool in making a single European telecoms market a reality. The establishment of this body formalises the loose co-operation arrangements that were previously in place and ensures that a more transparent and efficient approach is adopted.
· European Commission say on remedies – enhanced provisions are included which allow the Commission to comment on remedies proposed by regulators to address competition issues in the market. This is designed to ensure a consistent regulatory approach is adopted across all Member States.
Under the new Regulations [Regulation 13 and 14 of the Framework Regulations] the European Commission has the power to oversee regulatory remedies proposed by national regulatory authorities. The objective of this is to avoid inconsistent regulation that could distort competition in the single telecoms. Where the Commission, in close co-operation with BEREC, considers that a draft remedy proposed by the Regulator would create a barrier to the single market, the Commission may issue a recommendation that requires the national regulator to amend or withdraw the proposed remedy.
· Functional separation as a last resort – a new provision has been included in the Access Regulations to allow the Regulator to impose an obligation on vertically integrated undertakings to place activities related to wholesale provision of relevant access products in an independently operating business entity. This provision is considered to be a provision of last resort where serious competition problems persist.
The Regulator will gain the additional tool of being able to oblige telecom operators to separate communication networks from their service branches, as a last resort remedy [Regulation 14 of the Access Regulations]. Functional separation can rapidly improve competition in markets while maintaining incentives for investment in new networks.
· Broadband access through better spectrum management – enhanced provisions have been included in relation to spectrum management including provision for trading, leasing and measures to prevent hoarding of spectrum
Enhanced provisions in relation to the management of spectrum have been included in the draft Regulations [Regulations 17, 18 and 19 of the Framework Regulations]. These reforms will ensure the better management of the spectrum resources which will contribute to overcoming the “digital divide”.
· Competition and investment in NGA’s - Specific provision has been included to encourage investment by operators, including in next generation networks, which obliges the Regulator, when considering obligations to be imposed on operators in relation to price control and cost accounting, to take into account the investment made by the operator and allow the operator a reasonable rate of return on adequate capital employed, taking into account the risk