COVID-19 & Telecoms: country overview

By Feyo Sickinghe

04-2020

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, telecoms operators are faced with significant challenges, including: traffic growth, congestion, network continuity & security issues.

On March 31st, the GSMA called for a relaxation of spectrum licensing and management rules, amidst the sudden and significant increase in traffic demand. ETNO, the European Telecommunications Network Operator’s Association has issued FAQs on COVID-19, telecoms and network data.

Across the EU, Governments and national regulatory authorities are also issuing guidance and additional regulations that are updated on a regular basis. BEREC, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications and the European Commission have issued a joint statement which is discussed in the April edition of the Connected newsletter.

Bird & Bird is providing a country-by-country overview for the telecoms market.

Belgium

The BIPT ("the Belgian Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications") has published two notices for telecoms operators and has extended the deadline for submitting applications to obtain additional 4G spectrum (see here for an overview).

The main guidelines of the BIPT are that operators should:

  • Review, update and adapt existing "Business Continuity Plans" and evaluate the measures included in them to address the risks arising COVID-19 virus on the organisation;
  • Carry out a thorough risk analysis for major planned upgrades or changes to the networks or services up to 5 April 2020, in particular for the risks that could lead to the unavailability of networks or services; where possible, operators should postpone them.
  • Ensure that the necessary measures have been taken to safeguard continuity of service; in particular:
    • For personnel with critical functions, repair teams as well as for subcontractors ensuring critical tasks.
    • Determine the priority and speed with which the various repairs must be carried out. Alert their employees, in particular those with a critical task for the operation of the network or services, to the hygienic precautions they can apply.

  • Take the necessary measures to cope with a sudden increase in traffic. If these measures have not yet been activated, ensure that they can be put into effect quickly and easily.
  • In the event of malfunctions or breakdowns:
    • Evaluate whether or not they are critical;
    • Carry out all other repairs when time and resources are available.

For further information on Belgium please contact [email protected]


Denmark

We have seen no official publications in Denmark.

For further information on Denmark please contact [email protected].

Finland

The Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications has provided an information pack concerning COVID-19, please see here.

The impact and consequences for the transport and communication systems are being closely monitored by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, and measures are planned in accordance with the instructions of the Finnish institute of Health and Welfare.

With reference to many companies switching to remote working and concerns about the capacity of communications connections, the Ministry states that the main objective is that the transport and communication system would function as normally as possible. In Finland, telecommunications networks have good capacity and resilience. The National Cyber Security Centre is observing the situation and when necessary, it will issue further instructions.

Also, the National Cyber Security Centre has provided guidance for safe remote work (in Finnish).

For further information on Finland please contact [email protected]

France

Different French authorities have taken measures or published guidance and advice to businesses and individuals to support them going through this difficult time.

1. Telco-specific:

  • Government’s action

Network congestion: The French Government asked Disney to postpone the launch of its VOD service “Disney+”, initially scheduled on 24th March to 7th April, taking into consideration potential network congestion issues.

Transmission of messages in case of imminent threat: the Government used its power to request operators to transmit end-users messages in case of imminent threat. Operators complied with their obligation.

A Regulatory framework for the rolling out of telecom infrastructure: The Government adopted an order to simplify temporarily the administrative procedures to be completed by operators to roll out mobile base stations. The order provides for temporary authorization exemptions.

  • ARCEP’s actions

Network congestion: ARCEP (French Telecom Regulator) has translated the joint Communication from the Commission and BEREC and published it on its website without further advice.

ARCEP published different best practices guidance regarding the proper use of internet access to handle remote working (from “how to optimize Wi-Fi signal” to “sequence uses of internet at home”). This communication was intended for consumers and ECS end-users. It is worth noting that the ARCEP’s Chairman, Sebastien Soriano, has also given interviews to major News Broadcasts to spread best practices. He explains how the individuals’ behaviors has changed the traffic demand but the networks are not expected to explode any time soon. Also, he called for responsible use of the resources in order to provide the best services to the maximum of individuals, notably insisting on using a fixed connection, where possible rather than mobile.

France has not taken any specific measures on the spectrum yet.

2. General:

The website of the Ministry of Economy displays some classic recommendations as shown on all governmental websites. In addition, there are specific recommendations to businesses on how digital services can be supportive to their activities. It goes further by displaying a bunch of applications and websites which offer their services for a period of time (from 30 to 180 days) free of charge. The list is available for either businesses or individuals.
On the website of the DGCCRF “Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Prevention of Fraud”, they have published guidance to the public regarding scams that can operate under these exceptional circumstances. Also, they investigate the price of anti-bacterial gels, for example.
The Ministry for Economy has also adopted a series of orders to support businesses: creation of fund for SMEs, specific rules for the approval of annual accounts.

For further information on France please contact [email protected]

Germany

On 25 March 2020, the German regulator Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA) published two documents:

1) A “Report on the capacity use of the telecommunications networks”,
2) “Guidelines on traffic management measures / other measures in case of network overloads”,

In its Report on capacity use, BNetzA says that it has not learned of any network overload. According to the information provided by the internet providers and their associations, networks are stable and measures are taken to ensure their ongoing functioning. BNetzA also mentions that many issues that users currently experience are not due to network congestion, but due to other issues (for example too little service capacity in companies).

BNetzA also mentions that the Ministry of Economics has asked (and is still asking) providers of video streaming services to reduce the quality of their video streams, to reduce the usage of the networks. So far, Netflix, Amazon, Google/Youtube and Facebook complied voluntarily.

In its guidelines, BNetzA says that:

  • Telephony and other services requiring “high performance” can be prioritized over other services
  • If traffic management is used, then all services of a certain category (e.g. video streaming) have to be throttled equally. Impeding measures that affect only single content or application providers are not permissible.
  • Access providers are free to take measures that affect their internet access services as a whole, e.g. by limiting the max data rate or suspending a zero-rating offer.

For further information on Germany please contact [email protected]

Poland

The Polish government is currently working on a special legal act regulating a number of matters in relation to COVID-19. On 25 March, the President of the Office for Electronic Communications (UKE) sent a letter to all telco networks providers in Poland requesting them to take all the necessary steps to ensure continuity of data transfer and voice services and prevent network congestion as provided for under Article 3 (3) (b) and (c) of the Regulation 2015/2120 and also informed them of BEREC's and the EC's joint statement of 19 March.

The Anti-crisis Shield Act is currently passing in the Polish Parliament, but as far as we have seen nothing specific for the telco sector is in there, except that once the Act enters into force civil law and administrative deadlines will be stayed or will not start to run until the emergency status e of the epidemic threat is called off in Poland.

For further information on Poland please contact [email protected]

The Netherlands

The Dutch government has launched a COVID-19 website (available in English). ICT/Telecom is seen as a vital sector for the economy. Parents who work in these vital sectors or who are indispensable for vital processes can make use of the emergency childcare. At this time, there is no intention from the national government to proceed to area closures/lockdowns, and if this is the case, local and regional customization will be provided. Should the situation arise, the authorities will identify any bottlenecks in the digital infrastructure and telecommunications sectors.

The Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets has published guidance with respect to COVID-19 and regulatory oversight including fair business practices. The Radiocommunications Agency (Agentschap Telecom) has launched a special COVID-19 webpage with information about digging activities, service delivery and the 5G multi-band auction (in Dutch). An overview of recent developments in the Netherlands is available on the Birdbuzz website.

For further information on the Netherlands please contact [email protected]

United Kingdom

On March 24th, Ofcom published an update suspending all ongoing consultations and even said the implementation of the European Electronic Communications Code may be delayed given COVID-19 and that it will take a pragmatic approach to enforcement. They also flag investment in Fibre and 5G as priorities and that they will continue to engage with Government and stakeholders on this.

On April 1st, Ofcom welcomed the efforts of BT/EE, Openreach, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, and KCOM who have committed to helping their customers deal with issues they might face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Measures recently agreed with Ofcom and Government, effective immediately:

  • All providers have committed to working with customers who find it difficult to pay their bills as a result of COVID-19 to ensure that they are treated fairly and appropriately supported.
  • All providers will remove all data allowance caps on all current fixed broadband services.
  • All providers have agreed to offer some new, generous mobile and landline packages to ensure people are connected and the most vulnerable continue to be supported. For example, some of these packages include data boosts at low prices and free calls from their landline or mobile.
  • All providers will ensure that vulnerable customers or those self-isolating receive alternative methods of communication wherever possible if priority repairs to fixed broadband and landlines cannot be carried out.

As a result of the unprecedented challenges the industry is dealing with, Ofcom has also provided advice about how broadband and mobile companies should comply with some of the rules at this time. This provides advice to providers about compliance with automatic compensation rules, end of contract notifications and the broadband speeds code of practice with an emphasis on consumer protection measures and keeping customers connected. Ofcom has also stated that it will take a pragmatic enforcement approach recognising the significant challenges providers face at this time and the steps they need to take to respond to COVID-19.

For further information on the United Kingdom please contact [email protected]