Reform of the National Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Postal Services (BIPT – IBPT)
The Belgian National Regulatory Authority (‘NRA’) for Telecommunications and Postal Services (BIPT) was created in 1991. Until now, it has been under the authority and supervision of the Minister for Telecommunications and Public Entities, which has also had a management relationship with Belgacom, the partly state-owned former incumbent in Belgium.
BIPT’s principal roles are to monitor the functioning of the telecommunications market enforcement of legislation as the industry watchdog and dispute resolution.
The Belgian Government has moved in response to the strong views expressed by Belgian operators and the European Commission in its most recent report on the implementation of the regulatory framework. Both had complained about the lack of independence of the regulatory authority, given its relationship with a ministry which had a significant shareholding in Belgacom giving rise to possible conflicts of interest for the Minister.
Further, since the original creation of BIPT, the market for telecommunications has undergone fundamental change, through the introduction of competition and harmonisation of the telecommunications market at the European level. In response, BIPT has been given new powers to make service authorisations and resolve interconnection disputes, to be exercised in a transparent, non-discriminatory and objective way.
The new legislation introduces a clear distinction between the functions of the minister and the role of the regulator: decisions over regulatory policy are to be made by the Minister, and supervising the application of those decisions falls to BIPT.
BIPT’s status now is similar to some other Belgian regulatory authorities such as the Banking and Finance Commission (CBF), ie an autonomous entity with public duties whose decisions are made by a board. This said, there are limits to BIPT’s autonomy. For example, it must publish annual reports about its activities, as well as financial reports. In addition, two consultative bodies are being created to advise BIPT in relation to its activities: one for the telecommunications sector and one for the postal sector.
Appeal processes have also changed so that an appeal against a BIPT decision can now be lodged in a summary procedure before the Brussels Court of Appeal.
Mobile phone number portability
The Belgian government has implemented mobile phone number portability before the implementation deadline provided in the Universal Services Directive (2002/22/EG). To facilitate transition from one operator to another, a central reference database for number portability, containing all assigned geographical and non-geographical numbers will be introduced. This database is managed by a non-profit making organisation, of which the 12 Belgian operators are members. Furthermore, the Government Decree introducing portability requires mobile phone operators to conclude number portability agreements.
Consumer organisations have expressed concern about the transparency of number portability arrangements, in particular that interconnection tariffs and retail pricing structures result in calls to a different network being more expensive than calls to a customer of the same operator. In response, operators have developed a dedicated helpline and website which tells users which operator is responsible for individual numbers. Network-specific jingles also play before connection takes place, to inform the user that he is calling a network of a different operator.
Mobile phone fraud and theft reduction measures
Mobile phone theft is on the increase and this is prompting regulatory scrutiny. The GSM standard already provides for voluntary use of the Equipment Identity Register (EIR), which is a database with the identification numbers of all mobile phones (the IMEI-number). However, only two Belgian operators are currently using this system to prevent the use of stolen mobile phones on their network.
All mobile phone operators already have an obligation to adopt technical measures to prevent the illicit use of their networks and to prevent fraud and/or use of stolen mobile phones. Since the Minister has not yet implemented any practical measures by Ministerial Decree, subscription to the EIR is likely to become mandatory.
 Act of 17 January 2003 concerning the status of the Belgian regulatory authority for the telecommunications and postal services sectors (Belgian State Gazette, 24 January 2003 – Third edition) and Act of 17 January 2003 concerning the recourses to legal proceedings and the dispute resolution with regard to the Act of 17 January 2003 concerning the status of the Belgian regulatory authority for the telecommunications and postal services sectors (Belgian State Gazette, 24 January 2003 – Third Edition).
 Royal Decree of 23 September 2002 concerning mobile phone number portability (Belgian State Gazette, 1 October 2002) and Royal Decree of 23 October 2002 modifying the Royal Decree of 16 March 2000 concerning fixed line phone number portability (Belgian State Gazette, 1 October 2002).
 Royal Decree of 10 October 2002 modifying the Royal Decree of 7 March 1995 concerning the exploitation of mobile phone networks, the Royal Decree of 24 October 1997 concerning the exploitation of DCS-1800 mobile phone networks and the Royal Decree of 18 January 2001 concerning the estimate and the procedure of awarding licences for 3G networks (Belgian State Gazette, 1 November 2002).