3 January 2000
On 5 October 1999, the Government launched a public consultation on adapting the legal framework of the information society. Autorité de régulation des télécommunications (ART) supports the initiative, given the economic and social issues at stake linked to the development of Internet and of new information and communication technologies. The scope of the consultation will help us to better understand and resolve many of the legal questions raised by the development of Internet today. Moreover, Internet is an area in which dialogue is a key condition for reforms to be successful.
In its response, ART placed its proposals within the framework of a few fundamental principles:
- <font size="3"><b><i>Applying existing law to Internet</i></b></font>
<font size="3"> </font>For the most part, the development of Internet is covered by laws in force, and in particular by telecommunications law; which applies to the telecommunications networks which support the services offered on Internet. For networks, the legal framework must be unified and simplified in a context of technological convergence. For content, the fundamental distinction between private correspondence and public communication continues to be valid on Internet.
As for the new rules to be applied to Internet, ART emphasizes that the development of Internet depends on free access to networks and services, and thus, on the exercise of effective and fair competition, to the consumer's benefit.
- Putting in place suitable regulations
If suitable regulations are to be established, separate regulations must be applied to the "containers"—which are of an economic nature and which tend to unify, given the creation of a new economy combining telecommunications and audiovisual—and to the content based on ethical or cultural concerns.
To do this, the Government plans to use co-regulation which differs from auto-regulation, in that it includes the participation of public authorities. This pragmatic approach which combines, by its very definition, various players, seems well suited to the Internet situation in France. Co-regulation should be implemented flexibly and progressively, while ensuring that the same rules can be applied to all players; its application will also have to be clear and in harmony with the missions of the various regulation bodies in related sectors.
- Assuming the consequences of the convergence of communication media
One of the main issues of Internet regulation is that it must adapt to rapid technological change. To this end, regulations must be neutral with regard to the technologies used, or could quickly become obsolete. Thus, the emergence of IP telephony and the convergence of voice and data transmission services show the need for changes to the legal framework for telecommunications services.
Rules and regulations for networks must be identical regardless of the type of infrastructure, technology used or service they offer to users. Harmonising the authorisation system for transport and access networks, whether they use fixed or wireless technologies, will represent a major step towards simplification. The same is true for the frequency bands used for telecommunications services and audiovisual services which—as is the case in many countries—could be managed together, including for space frequencies.
Similarly, the rules and regulations for telecommunications services must be homogenous, regardless of the infrastructure networks and technologies used.
- Encouraging access to telecommunications networks
If Internet access is to be made available to as many people as possible, access via the switched network and high-speed access must both be developed, within the framework of effective competition on the local loop. Still, the development of Internet use by all citizens will also depend on measures improving the availability of terminals (most often PCs), as well as educating citizen in computer jargon and computing tools as well as searches.
Given the importance of xDSL technologies, local loop unbundling and its various technical aspects constitutes an effective contribution to the growth of the high-speed access market, to the benefit of users. While changes to the legal framework seems desirable, in a concern for legal security, in order to complete unbundling, they should not be a prerequisite to initiating technical and economic work and implementing other solutions. Access must be offered to operators, in the short term, in order to allow them to offer ADSL services under the same conditions as the incumbent operator.
Beyond the question of access, interconnection rules for traditional networks and for data networks using the IP protocol will have to be harmonised, in the medium term.
More generally, the rules for free network access and non discrimination which apply to the telecommunications sector must be generalised, such as for conditional access systems, hardware (decoders) and software (access platforms), which will play a major role in the information society and could form bottlenecks in the global service market in the information society. Domain name and Internet address management could also be managed by the same sort of rules as are used for rare telecommunications resources.
The concept of universal service is also important. Given technological and economic advances, its content and provision could change, even though, for now, the measures applied appear satisfactory.
- Taking account of Internet's international dimension
Finally, ART insists on the international dimension of Internet. Beyond the legislative measures specific to France, France must be present on the European and international level to defend its conception of Internet and its own interests against the de facto North American domination.
This is how we must hope to complete, in a short time, the transposition process of certain Community directives.
This consultation could also help in preparing the framework within which French authorities will conduct discussions with their counterparts on an international level.
ART's response is available on its Web site and on the site of the Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industry.