Leg. Dev.: Open Network Provision for Voice Telephony

2 Colum. J. Eur. L. 390 (1996)

Christopher Wyeth Kirkham.
Rajesh Swaminathan.

As of December 13, 1995, the European Parliament and the Council have adopted Directive 95/62/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on the application of open network provision to voice telephony (1995 O.J. (L 321)). The Directive, adopted under Article 100a of the EC Treaty, extends to public voice telephony services and fixed networks the open network provision (ONP) principles originally established in Council Directive 90/387/EEC (the ONP Framework Directive). The measure had been under consideration since 1990, but had been held up primarily by disagreements between the Council and the European Parliament on the issue of comitology. By promoting fair and
efficient access to, and interoperability between, fixed public voice telephony networks and services, the measure constitutes an important step in preparing for the full liberalization of EU telecommunications markets.

ONP principles seek to create seamless interoperability between services provided through interconnected networks, which may be owned and managed by numerous different organizations. This Directive should thus harmonize conditions for access and interconnection, creating integrated infrastructures open to all consumers and service providers. The role of ONP in a competitive market includes guaranteeing universal service provision, particularly by ensuring the availability of a minimum set of services. ONP should also bolster innovation in the telecommunications sector both by enhancing competition and by ensuring interoperability of services. These developments will become even more significant upon implementation of full competition in voice telephony under Commission Directive 96/19/EC.

Generally, the Community ONP principles, as defined under the ONP Framework Directive, seek to “facilitate the service providers’ and users’ freedom of action without unduly limiting the telecommunications organizations’ responsibility for the functioning of the network and the best possible condition of communications channels.”The framework further contemplates harmonizing technical interfaces and service features, supply and usage conditions, and tariff principles. The present Directive, which applies ONP to voice telephony, accordingly focuses on harmonizing the general conditions regarding open and efficient access to and use of fixed public telephone networks and public telephony services (Article 1(1)). By limiting itself to “fixed” networks and services, the Directive excludes mobile telephony networks and services, even with respect to their interconnection with fixed public telephone networks (Article 1(2)). “Users” under the Directive includes both consumers and service providers (Article 2(2)).

The Directive seeks to establish a “harmonized offering throughout the Community” for fixed public telephone networks and services (Article 3). To promote this goal, it requires Member States to ensure that users can obtain connections to fixed public networks and connect and use approved terminal equipment. The Directive mandates adequate publication of information regarding access to and use of such services and connections, along with targets for supply-time and quality-of-service (Articles 4-5).