The General Conditions of Entitlement apply to anyone who provides an electronic communication service or an electronic communications network. It is important that providers understand the legal obligations which these conditions impose on them.
These notes are intended to outline the kinds of organisations which may be subject to these conditions and to indicate the general nature of those obligations. It is not possible in a short summary such as this to provide detailed guidance. Providers of electronic communication services or networks must read the conditions themselves and, if necessary, take their own legal advice.
When the new EU communications regime was implemented in the UK on 25 July 2003, individual licences granted under the Telecommunications Act 1984 were replaced by the General Authorisation regime. The effect was that licences are no longer required for providing communications networks or services in the UK – everyone is ‘generally authorised’ to do so. However, the General Authorisation is subject to the General Conditions of Entitlement: these conditions apply to all persons providing electronic communications networks and services.
Individual providers may be subject to additional conditions, such as SMP conditions (imposed as a result of a finding of Significant Market Power), access related conditions or conditions imposed as a consequence of a provider being designated as a universal service provider. Any provider which is subject to these additional conditions will have been notified individually when the conditions were imposed. For most providers, the only relevant conditions are the General Conditions of Entitlement, as these apply to anyone who is providing an electronic communications service or network.
The terms “Electronic Communications Network” and “Electronic Communications Service” are defined in the opening Definitions section of the General Conditions of Entitlement. You should read those definitions carefully.In simple terms, an Electronic Communications Network is a transmission system for conveying messages (“Signals”) of any kind. An Electronic Communications Service is a service, the principal
feature of which is the conveyance of messages by means of an Electronic Communications Network - however the definition of an Electronic Communications Service excludes services which are Content Services (ie the provision of material, such as information or entertainment, which is to be conveyed by the Electronic Communications Service).
The General Conditions of Entitlement draw no distinctions based on ownership of the network; the provider of a network or a service may own the underlying network or facilities but may rent some or all of them. Who is the actual provider of an Electronic Communications Network for the purposes of any of the General Conditions is usually fairly clear, and where more than one organisation might be considered to be involved in the provision of the network, responsibility for complying with any given condition would depend on which of those organisations had control over the facilities to which the condition relates. The provider of an Electronic Communications Service is generally the organisation with a contractual relationship with the end user or, in the case of wholesale services, with the reseller or other intermediary for the provision of such services. Please note that systemless resellers of Electronic Communications Services are subject to the General Conditions of Entitlement; these conditions do not only apply to providers of services which are reliant on the provider’s own infrastructure.
The General Conditions of Entitlement distinguish between three main types of network or service provider, and the type of network or service which you provide will determine which conditions apply to you.
Each of the 21 General Conditions of Entitlement impose obligations on Communications Providers, but each condition includes its own definition of that broad term for the purposes of that condition. You should take care to read the definition which applies to each condition as this defines the type of provider to whom the condition applies.
The three main types of network or service provider are;
Each of these terms is defined in the opening Definitions section of the General Conditions of Entitlement. You should read those definitions carefully to understand which term applies to you.
The first of the groups of providers has the widest application, and refers to all of the providers which were discussed under the question Are you providing an electronic communications network or service? These include providers of all types of electronic communications networks and services, including both public and private networks, mobile and fixed (unless otherwise stated) voice telephony, data and internet. It includes resellers as well as own-network providers. It does not include providers of terminal equipment, such as phones.
The second of the groups of providers narrows the first defined group to exclude those who provide services or networks which are not available to members of the public (typically, private networks and the services run on private networks, and other bespoke services which are not offered to the general public).
The third group of providers further narrows the class of providers to those which provide networks or services which enable members of the public to make and receive PSTN phone calls. Providers of, for example, data services or data networks are excluded from this class of provider, as are providers of Internet access services. Providers of telephone services which are not available to the generality of the public (eg payphone services provided by landlords, or bespoke services only available to particular users) are not considered to be “publicly available” and are excluded from this group. The group does, however, include most providers of indirect access services and resellers of PSTN services .
Ofcom is presently considering the position of providers of new types of voice services entering the market. On 6 September 2004 , Ofcom published a consultation document and interim guidance entitled “New voice services” which discusses the issue of PATS in relation to those types of services and the policy difficulties stemming from the definition of PATS in the new Directives and General Conditions. The document explains that Ofcom is seeking clarification from the European Commission on a potentially more flexible approach to new voice service providers and PATS. Pending that clarification in that document, Ofcom provided interim guidance that it would forebear from enforcing against new voice service providers those General Conditions which apply to PATS providers. This position will be reviewed in the light of guidance from the European Commission. Providers planning to offer new types of voice services should ensure that they follow closely developments arising from that consultation exercise.
Different conditions apply to each of these three sets of providers, and two conditions apply to a still narrower group of providers; condition 6 applies only to those who provide Public Pay Telephones, and condition 7 applies only to those who provide “an Appropriate Network” (used for broadcasting). Some conditions apply only to providers of networks, others to providers of services, and some to both. A few conditions apply only where the provider is serving particular types of customers (eg non business users). The applicability of each condition is specified in each condition and should be read carefully
You should decide to which of these groups you belong. Different conditions may of course apply to different services or networks which you provide.
With the exception of the first paragraph of condition 1 which has to do with interconnection obligations, the conditions which additionally apply to providers of Public Electronic Communications Networks or Services generally have to do with the nature of the providers’ relationship with his customers.
Many of these conditions, which apply in addition to the other conditions already discussed, reflect the essential role played by telephone services in modern society.
Finally, as mentioned previously, two of the General Conditions of Entitlement apply more narrowly;
|Condition||All providers of ECNs and ECSs||Providers of public ECNs and ECSs||Providers of publicly available telephone services or public telephone networks|
|1. General access and Interconnection obligations||Paras 1.2 and 1.3 only||Yes (network providers)||Yes (network providers)|
|2. Standardisation and specified interfaces||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|3. Proper and effective functioning of the network||Yes (but excludes mobile networks)|
|4. Emergency call numbers||Yes|
|5. Emergency planning||Yes|
|6. Public pay telephones||#||#||#|
|7.Must carry obligations||*||*||*|
|8. Operator assistance, directories and directory enquiries||Yes|
|9. Requirement to offer contracts with minimum terms||Yes||Yes|
|10. Transparency and publication of information||Yes|
|11. Metering and billing||Paras 11.1 and 11.2 only||Yes (subject in part to turnover threshold|
|12. Itemised bills||Yes|
|13. Non-payment of bills||Yes (but excludes mobile services)|
|14. Codes of practice and dispute resolution||Yes||Yes|
|15. Special measures for end users with disabilities||Yes|
|16. Provision of additional facilities||Yes|
|17. Allocation, adoption and use of telephone numbers||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|18. Number portability||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|19. Provision of directory information||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|20. Non geographic numbers||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|21. Quality of service||Yes||Yes|
# Providers of public pay telephones
* Providers of “Appropriate networks” used for receiving TV
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