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Universal Service in the electronic communications sector

The right of access to the Universal Service is the right of all end-users throughout Romania to benefit from the services included within the scope of Universal Service, at a certain quality level, irrespective of the geographic location and at affordable tariffs.
 
According to the National Strategy on the Universal Service implementation in the electronic communications sector, approved by Order of MCSI no.461/2009, the National Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications (ANCOM) has the obligation to ensure the right of access to the Universal Service throughout Romania. ANCOM may designate one or several Universal Service providers to provide one or several services within the scope of Universal Service, in certain areas or on the entire territory of Romania.
 
In view of implementing the new objectives under the national strategy, ANCOM elaborated a draft decision on the Universal Service implementation in the electronic communications sector of Romania. The draft and the Explanatory memorandum were both submitted to public consultation on the Authority’s website, on 18 October 2010, the interested parties being able to send their comments and suggestions by 19 November 2010.
 
Following the public consultation, the ANCOM president’s Decision no.7/2011 on the Universal Service implementation in the electronic communications sector was adopted and published in the Romanian Official Journal, Part One, no.39 of 17 January 2011.
 
The provisions of this decision pursue at harmonising the measures imposed under the new National strategy on the Universal Service implementation in the electronic communications sector with the amendments to the European regulatory framework by transposing them into the Romanian electronic communications market.
 
Ensuring of access and connection at a fixed location to the publicly available telephone services, at household level.
 
Decision no.7/2011 provides replacing the measure of ensuring the access to the public telephone network, at a fixed location, by means of telecentres, as established by the ANRC President’s Decision no.1074/2004 on the Universal Service implementation in the electronic communications sector, with the subsequent amendments and completions, with the measure of ensuring access and connection - at a fixed location - to the public telephone networks and of access - at a fixed location - to the publicly available telephone services, at the household level.
 
According to the European Commission Communication of 25 September 2008 on the periodic review of the scope of Universal Service in electronic communications, the wording "access at fixed location" refers to the end-user's primary residence (where several members of a household can share the connection), and not to a requirement for operators to use fixed technology; i.e., there should be no constraints on the technical means - whether wired or wireless - by which the connection is provided.
 
Hence, the access services provided over a PSTN network (analogue lines, digital trunks or ISDN lines), the homezone access services provided by the operators of mobile public networks, and the managed VoIP access services (mainly provided on broadband access connections) are all services of access at fixed location due to the similar functional characteristics. Furthermore, the market analysis showed that, as per the level of tariffs charged from the end-users, the previously mentioned services are substitutable, as the tariffs for the homezone or managed VoIP access services are generally lower than those for the services made available over the traditional PSTN networks.
 
Considering the aforementioned facts and the comments received by ANCOM during the public consultation on the means of Universal Service implementation in the electronic communications sector of Romania, we can draw the conclusion that the homezone services ensure the possibility to initiate and receive local, national and international calls, fax communications and data communications at transfer rates that are sufficient to allow for the functional Internet access.
 
Furthermore, having regard to the past years’ evolution of the electronic communications market, growth of the end-users’ needs as regards the Internet access service in the context of the rising necessity to receive or send a large data volume, as well as of certain more and more complex content services, combined with the comments received from the industry and the end-users during the public consultation, the Authority defined “the Internet functional access”, in Decision no.7/2011, as the service allowing for a data transfer download best effort speed of at least 144kbps. In fact, this speed is the minimum limit of the services which may be deemed as broadband Internet access services, while allowing the use of certain Internet access minimum applications.
 
Access to public pay telephones
 
ANCOM believes that the main cause for the low usage of public pay telephones is the replacement of these services with mobile telephone services. At present, there is a multitude of ways, much more accessible both as tariffs and possibility to access the telephone set are concerned, of using the telephone services, among these being the prepaid cards for access to telephone services at mobile locations, or the subscription offers to such services which include free terminal equipment. From this perspective, certainly, considering the mobile telephony penetration rate at end-2009, i.e. 118.2%, the latter are much more employed and more easily accessible to users than the public pay telephones.
           
Decision no.7/2011 introduces the requirements which would ensure the access to the public pay telephones by means of the Universal Service mechanisms, and namely, in the areas where the demands cannot be satisfied under commercial conditions, as well as in the locations where the telephone services at mobile locations cannot be used (e.g. hospitals, penitentiaries) or, on the contrary, where the mobile public networks are overcharged (e.g. railway stations, airports).
 
The request for the installation of a public pay telephone may be submitted to ANCOM by the authorities of the local public administration of the city, town or commune concerned. The local public authority must commit to jointly meet the following requirements:
- to ensure free of charge the usage of a location suitable for the installation and operation in good conditions of the public pay telephone (including the supply of electric power to the location and/or ensure the location required for the installation of the antenna, if such is the case);
- to bear the location maintenance costs (electric power, salubrity etc.);
- to enable the end-users, in the location concerned, to make calls uninterruptedly (24 h/day, 7 days/week).
 
If the aforementioned requirements are met, ANCOM will assess the opportunity of designating a Universal Service provider in order to ensure the access to the public pay telephones, provided that the following conditions are fulfilled:
- there is no public pay telephone installed on a 1,000 m area, as per the urban localities;
- there is no public pay telephone installed, as per the rural localities, or there is only one public pay telephone installed, as per the rural localities with more than 1,000 inhabitants.
 
Ensuring the directory enquiry service and making available the subscriber directories
 
ANCOM designated Infoclick S.A. and S.C. Newsphone Hellas S.A., represented in Romania by Newsphone Hellas S.A. Athens Greece Bucharest Branch, as Universal Service providers, for a 2-year period, both for creating and managing a subscriber directory and for providing a directory enquiry service.
The Authority considers that the objective related to the ensuring of directory enquiry services and subscriber directories has been achieved. Taking into account that, currently, there are other two providers of directory enquiry services and subscriber directories active on the market, at the end of the designation period, ANCOM will analyse whether the market can, through its own mechanisms, ensure the provision of a directory enquiry service for all the end-users connected to a public telephone network, irrespective of the network type and of the technology used, including the public pay telephone users, and, respectively, whether there is available a comprehensive subscriber directory, either printed or electronic.
 
Ensuring equivalent access conditions for the services within the scope of Universal service for the disabled end-users
 
Decision no.7/2011 includes a series of obligations ANCOM may impose on the designated Universal Service providers in order to make sure that the disabled end-users benefit from the services within the scope of Universal Service under equivalent conditions as the other end-users, as follows:
- for the access to publicly available telephone services at a fixed location:
a. upon request, the free of charge transmission of the contract requirements on the provision of services, of simple invoices or of any other promotional materials printed with a large font, in the Braille language or by electronic mail in a format compatible with most document reading programmes;
b. ensure the easy access in the providers’ own working points for the persons with walking disabilities;
c. ensure the access through SMS or text-relay to the single emergency call number;
d. ensure special tariff packages for the persons with speaking or hearing disabilities;
- for the access to public pay telephones – installing the public pay telephones in such a manner as to render them permanently accessible to the persons with walking or seeing disabilities;
- for the directory enquiry service and subscriber directory – free of charge access to the directory enquiry service for the persons who cannot consult the subscriber directory because of seeing disabilities.
 
The measures above are not exhaustive. ANCOM may thus impose on the Universal Service provider, in the designation decision, other obligations whereby to make sure that the disabled end-users benefit from the same offer as the other users.
 
As per the procedure of designation of the Universal Service provider, ANCOM decided maintaining, as a rule, the procedure of designation by means of open public tender, whereas the concrete period of designation of the Universal Service providers is to be established by ANCOM within each held procedure.
 

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