Arcep is France’s Electronic Communications, Postal and Print media distribution Regulatory Authority (L’Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques, des postes et de la distribution de la presse). It was created on 5 January 1997, and originally called the Telecoms Regulatory Authority or ART.
At the time, Parliament gave it the task of shepherding the process of opening the electronic communications sector up to competition, and so enabling new operators to emerge alongside the incumbent carrier (France Telecom, since renamed Orange), and this for the benefit of end users.
The fixed and mobile calling and internet markets have evolved a great deal since then. Operators have deployed fixed (copper, optical fibre, etc.) and mobile (2G, 3G and later 4G) networks to provide not only telephone services but also internet access. These communication networks now play a vital role in the country’s operation, and in the daily lives of the people of France. Because they are so important, European lawmakers decided it was necessary to create a State authority that was independent of private sector companies, to oversee the networks’ proper development.
As the situation evolved, so too did Arcep’s responsibilities which were expanded to include: postal sector regulation in 2005, protecting net neutrality in 2015, the Digital Republic Act in 2016, regional digital development, with the provisions of the Elan Act to accelerate regional digital coverage in 2018, and the Law on modernising print media distribution in 2019 (six laws enacted since 2004!) Their goal: to ensure that private operators’ growth trajectory and interests are reconciled with the objectives of achieving nationwide connectivity, and fair and effective competition between operators for the benefit of end users.
To meet these new challenges, Arcep wanted to enter into a new and resolutely digital-centric cycle in its history: in 2015 it began a strategic review of its activities, baptised “Arcep 360°”. An open, transparent and participatory process that involved all of Arcep’s teams, as well as outside stakeholders.
At the end of process, Arcep drew up a roadmap that defined the “causes to champion” in the coming years. It also adopted a mission statement, a brief text that seeks to define its fundamental raison d’être.
"Arcep is a neutral and expert arbitrator, architect and guardian of communications networks in France."
… sometimes referred to as the “telecoms watchdog”
Arcep is an independent administrative authority (IAA). It is responsible for regulating the electronic communications and postal sectors, on behalf of the State, but entirely independently of any political power or economic stakeholder.
Arcep is composed of a seven-member Executive Board, with equal gender representation. The members are appointed by different political authorities, based on their economic, legal and technical qualifications in the areas of electronic communications, postal matters and regional economics.
- The President of France appoints the Arcep Chair, and two other members.
- The President of the National Assembly and the President of the Senate each appoint two members of the Board.
The members of the Board are appointed for a six-year term. To guarantee their independence, their term of office is irrevocable and non-renewable. They are also subject to incompatible functions rules as well as ethical obligations.
On a day-to-day basis, Arcep’s departments assist the Board in carrying out its duties. The close 170 agents working for Arcep’s eight departments prepare the dossiers that are presented twice a week to the Board, which then reaches decisions collectively.
The Law provides for three distinct bodies within the Board:
- the plenary body, composed of the seven members of the Executive Board. It deliberates on all decisions and opinions, except for decisions where the Law expressly assigns that power to one of the other Arcep bodies.
- the body responsible for settling disputes, legal proceedings and investigations (referred to in French as “RDPI”), is composed of four of the seven Board members, including the ARCEP Chair. It adopts decisions on investigations, inquiries and dispute settlements, as well as decisions on proceedings carried out as part of a penalty procedure.
- Lastly, the restricted body, composed of the three most recently appointed members of the ARCEP Board, excluding the Chairman, which deliberates on decisions to impose or not impose penalties.
In the electronic communications sector
- Define the regulation that applies to all or some of the operators. Under this “asymmetric” regulation, Arcep issues a market analysis decision that sets out the obligations imposed on one or all of the operators that are deemed to enjoy significant power in the relevant market, and so referred to as the SMP operator(s), in accordance with Article L. 37-1 et seq. of the French Postal and Electronic Communications Code (CPCE). For the purposes of “symmetric” regulation, Arcep defines the general obligations that apply equally to all operators (CPCE Art. L. 36-6 and L. 36-7);
- Allocate frequency and numbering resources, through individual decisions (CPCE Art. L. 42-1 et seq. and Art. L. 44) and define the national numbering plan (CPCE Art. L. 44);
- Oversee the financing and supply of the universal service (CPCE Art. L. 35 et seq.);
- Share its expertise, through opinions issued on request to the Government, Parliament and other regulatory authorities, such as the Competition Authority or the Broadcasting Authority (CSA);
- Prescribe soft laws, such as guidelines or recommendations to provide the sector with clarity on how it performs its duties or to guide stakeholders’ behaviour;
- Engage in an ongoing dialogue with the sector’s players, to maintain an in-depth knowledge of the markets it regulates, adjust its regulatory decisions and make them widely known. This dialogue takes the form of regular meetings and events (workshops, plenary meetings, conferences, etc.) and requests for feedback to the many public consultations that Arcep holds.
Pursuant to the adoption of the Law on Economic Growth, Activity and Equal Opportunity of 6 August 2015, the European regulation on open Internet access and mobile roaming of 25 November 2015, and the Digital Republic Act of 7 October 2016, Arcep also has the power to:
- Declare of its own motion an operator that has not declared itself to the Authority (Article L. 33-1);
- Request, under certain conditions, that parties amend their public radio network sharing agreements (Article L. 34-8-1-1);
- Publish operators’ coverage maps as open data files (Article L. 36-7, para. 11);
- Allocate frequency and numbering resources while temporarily relaxing, and under certain conditions, the requesting party’s obligations – as a means of fostering the development of a technically and commercially innovative technology or service (Articles L. 42-1 and L. 44);
To ensure that operators comply with their obligations, Arcep has been vested with the power to impose penalties (CPCE Art. L. 36-11) and the power to investigate (CPCE Art. L. 32-4 and L. 32-5). The Arcep Chair may also request input from the Competition Authority or the public prosecutor (CPCE Art. L. 36-10).
Lastly, in accordance with its power to settle disputes (CPCE Art. L. 36-8), Arcep is able to rule on disputes between two operators regarding the technical and financial terms and conditions governing access or interconnection.
In the postal sector
Arcep has various responsibilities with respect to the postal sector, including:
- Issuing authorisations to postal service operators that deliver items of correspondence (CPCE Art. L. 3);
- Calculating the cost to La Poste of providing the universal service
(CPCE Art. L. 1 et seq.) and monitoring the quality of the service provided under this mandate (CPCE Art. L. 5-2);
- Exercising accounting and price supervision over the universal service provider (CPCE Art. L. 5-2);
- Issuing public opinions on the economic aspects of the price of services provided to print media outlets, as part of the public transport and delivery of press publications service.
To ensure it is able to carry out its duties fully, Arcep has the power to impose penalties (CPCE Art. L. 5-3), investigatory powers (CPCE Art. L. 5-9 and L. 5-9-1), the power to settle disputes (CPCE Art. L. 5-4 to L. 5-6) and conciliation powers (CPCE Art. L. 5-7). The Arcep Chair is also able to refer cases to the Competition Authority and the public prosecutor.