By: MarkJ - 23 May, 2011 (12:20 PM)
europe mapeuropean union flagThe European Commission (EC) has said that its new telecoms rules and regulations, which will begin coming into force from 25th May 2011 and form part of their wider Digital Agenda policy, should help to speed up the process of switching phone operators and protect UK consumers from excessively long contracts (i.e. ban on anything longer than 24 months). Broadband ISPs will also be required to clarify and detail how they use Traffic Management to change service quality.
New Consumer Protection Rules

• The ability to switch fixed or mobile phone operator without changing phone number within one working day.

• A maximum length of 24 months for customer's initial sign-on contracts and an obligation on operators to offer 12 month contracts. This will allow customers to switch more easily to a different operator if they find a better deal.

• Clearer information on services to which a customer is subscribed. Consumer contracts must give information about minimum service quality levels. In particular, internet subscribers must be given information about traffic management techniques and their impact on service quality, as well as any other limitations (such as bandwidth caps, available connection speed or the blocking or 'throttling' of access to certain services such as Voice Over Internet Protocol). Contracts also must give details of compensation and refunds available if these minimum levels are not met.
The UK communications regulator , Ofcom , confirmed earlier this month that consumers in the UK should also benefit from the new rules (here) and related adjustments. However, the regulator warned that a further consultation would be needed before it could implement the new Traffic Management rules (this is expected to surface within the next few days).

Meanwhile seven of the UK's biggest broadband ISPs and mobile operators, including BT , Sky Broadband , TalkTalk , Virgin Media , O2 , Three (3) and Vodafone UK, recently published a new Voluntary Code of Practice (vCOP) for broadband Traffic Management transparency (here). The new initiative will be piloted throughout 2011 and reviewed again in early 2012.

Neelie Kroes, VP of the EC's Digital Agenda, said:

"Citizens and businesses should take full advantage of the opportunities these new rules give them to get more competitive telecoms services. I will do my utmost to help them to do so. If these rights are not made available in practice, I will take the measures necessary to fix that situation vis-à-vis Member States and telecoms operators."

Perhaps more crucially the changes also include implementation of the EU's new Communications Framework, which gives national regulators extra powers of oversight on the competition remedies for telecoms markets; this includes helping to facilitate the roll-out and take-up of new superfast broadband services.

Ofcom is already in the process of tackling this and is set to begin yet another consultation soon, which among other things will investigate whether or not all UK telecoms operators should be forced to open up access to their cable ducts and telegraph poles; much like BT are already required to do.

The revised EU rules on telecoms networks and services were formally adopted by the European Parliament and Council during late 2009. The Parliament and Council agreed that the rules must be implemented into the national laws of the 27 Member States by 25th May 2011, though in reality such deadlines are frequently broken as the complexity of such changes usually takes a lot longer to get right. At least most of the consumer rules should soon be in place.
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