Implementation of the EECC into national legislation has begun

In Finland, the Ministry of Transport and Communications has begun a large reform of legislation on electronic communications, taking into consideration the requirements of the EU’s European Electronic Communications Code (EECC). Finland is one of the first countries to implement the EECC into national legislation.

The new legislation aims to modernise national regulation on electronic communications, for example, to improve service accessibility, consumer rights, and the availability of broadband networks and communications services. The new legislation will implement the requirements introduced by the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive and the European Electronic Communications Code.

The Government aims to submit its proposal to Parliament in the spring, and the laws are intended to come into effect in autumn this year. In a statement to the ministry, FiCom paid attention to things it considered key factors.

Commitment procedure (Article 79 of the directive)

According to the legislative proposal, a telecommunications company can avoid significant market power (SMP) obligations by promising various user rights to its network, but the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom would still have discretionary power to set obligations and to wholly or partly decline to take commitments into account.

The proposal does not create legal security, so FiCom believes that binding commitments set by Traficom should take precedence and that Traficom could only specify obligations based on a market analysis when it has well-justified grounds to do so.

Removal or replacement of a copper network (Article 81)

An SMP company should notify Traficom at least six months in advance before removing or replacing legacy copper networks. Traficom could set certain terms and obligations for the procedure.

FiCom proposes that the legislation be supplemented such that a time or deadline be set for Traficom to react to the notification submitted. Smaller projects should also be excluded from the obligation to notify Traficom. Exclusion could be based on the number of subscribers and/or length of the network.

A significant amount of copper network removal is caused by reasons that are independent of telecommunications companies. When electricity companies disassemble their tower networks, telecommunications companies are often informed of the disassembly quite late in the process. In practice, this can mean that the only possibility is to replace the services in the area with wireless solutions.

As the proposal states, unreasonable terms and obligations can actually conflict with the purpose of the legislation. This benefits no-one. FiCom proposes that the copper network to be removed or decommissioned could technology-neutrally be replaced with other services to safeguard services for users.

Universal service obligation

It is proposed that the universal service internet connection speed be increased by 150 per cent from its current 2 Mbit/s speed to 5 Mbit/s. Reports commissioned by the Ministry of Transport and Communications do not support an increase in speed because the services required by the directive can be carried out at the current universal service speed. The absolute value must not be a numerical data speed; service availability is what is important.

The proposed speed would significantly increase universal service companies’ costs. Depending on coverage requirements, the cost would be approx. 25–30 million euros, which would improve the speeds in only a few hundred households. This would be a disproportionate obligation. A better result would be achieved through commercial solutions, such as an external antenna connected to an internal wi-fi router.

User rights

Regulation concerning user rights is very unclear and obscure, as it applies to many different parties; that is, all users, microcompanies and small enterprises, or simply to consumers. The point of departure for regulation should be freedom of contract supplemented by general consumer protection rights and, where necessary, special regulation. There is no consumer protection-like protection for companies in any other operating industry. The protection of small enterprises should not be resolved through special legislation, but instead through a wider review of consumer protection legislation.

Must carry

Cable television network ‘must carry’ obligations are no longer necessary or reasonable. ‘Must carry’ obligations are not up-to-date with technology and market development and are not correctly proportionate to the aims of regulation. In cable households, television broadcasts are no longer viewable only via cable; viewers can watch programmes whenever and wherever they want on a device of their choosing.

In both antenna and cable transmission, a broadcast is sent, independently of the television company, by a separate network operator, but the distribution fee is currently only paid for antenna broadcasts. According to FiCom, television companies must pay operators a reasonable reimbursement for the use of transmission capacity and this is possible based on the directive. Networks should be treated in a technology-neutral manner.

Entry into force

The proposed date on which the law would come into force, 19 September 2020, is extremely problematic due to the number of new obligations. The law’s entry into force should be delayed until at least time of entry into force required by the directive (21 December 2020). If the universal service speed is increased from current levels, this increase should come into effect on 1 January 2022.