General conditions guidelines

The purpose of these guidelines

The purpose of these guidelines

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.

History

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.

Are you providing an electronic communications network or service?

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.

What kind of network or service are you providing?

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;

  • providers of Electronic Communications Services or Networks
  • providers of Public Electronic Communications Services or Networks
  • providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services or Public Telephone Networks

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.

(i) Providers of Electronic Communications Services or Networks

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.

(ii) Providers of Public Electronic Communications Services or Networks.

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).

(iii) Providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services or Public Telephone Networks

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.

What do the conditions require of relevant providers?

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.

(a) Conditions which apply to all providers of Electronic Communications Services or Networks

  • Condition 1 (paragraphs 1.2 and 1.3 only) imposes confidentiality obligations in respect of information provided in the course of negotiating network access. Although the provision applies to providers of networks or services, in practice it is likely mainly, if not exclusively, to affect providers of public networks which receive or make requests for access.
  • Condition 2 requires providers to comply with certain technical standards. Here again, although the condition applies to providers of networks or services, in practice the condition is likely mainly, if not exclusively, to affect network providers. These obligations do however apply to providers of private networks as well as public ones, as failure by providers of private networks to comply with required standards can affect end to end interoperability enjoyed by end users.
  • Conditions 17 – 20 concern the use of Telephone Numbers. The term “Telephone Number” is defined in the General Conditions in a way which potentially gives it very wide application. However the definition also recognises the Secretary of State’s powers to exclude certain types of number from the scope of these conditions. The Secretary of State has excluded domain names and other forms of Internet addressing. Condition 17 is concerned with the allocation and use of numbers, and imposes restrictions on the way certain number ranges may be used by providers of networks or services. Condition 18 requires all providers to provide number portability as soon as practicable and on reasonable terms but only to subscribers of publicly available telephone services who request it. The condition also requires that a porting facility must be provided as soon as practicable and on reaonsable terms to other providers who request it and various restrictions on porting charges. Condition 19 requires all providers which have been allocated phone numbers to ensure that details of the numbers which are issued to end users (directly or through sub allocations to other providers) are made available to other organisations which wish to compile Directories or Directory Enquiry services. (Where a provider has been given a sub allocation of numbers he is obliged to provide information to the provider which was originally allocated the numbers.) Condition 20 concerns the use of non geographic numbers, including access to non geographic numbers from elsewhere in Europe and the limiting of access to non geographic numbers from certain geographic areas when that is required by the end user of the number.

(b) Further conditions which apply to providers of Public Electronic Communications Services or Networks

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.

  • Condition 1 (paragraph 1) requires providers of Public Electronic Communications Networks to negotiate with a view to concluding an agreement for Interconnection within a reasonable time.
  • Condition 9 specifies the matters, such as the service provider’s address and the nature of the services offered, including the various quality levels and time for initial connection, maintenance services available, prices, service guarantees, contract duration, any compensation arrangements and dispute resolution procedures which, as a minimum, must be covered in any agreement with a Consumer, and requires providers to give at least one month’s notice, and the right to terminate, if the provider intends to alter the contract in a way which is materially detrimental to the Consumer. The term “Consumer” is defined in the condition and excludes customers which use the service in the course of trade, business or profession.
  • Condition 11 (paragraphs 1 and 2) requires providers of Public Electronic Communications Services to ensure that bills are accurate and obliges providers to maintain records so that this can be checked. The later parts of this condition apply only to providers of publicly available telephone services.
  • Condition 14 requires all providers of Public Electronic Communications Services to produce a basic code of practice for their domestic and small business customers which sets out where those customers can access certain specific information about the provider and his services. The information to which this condition refers is that which providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services must publish under condition 10. However, this condition 14 applies more widely to all providers of Public Electronic Communications Services and only requires that providers explain clearly how this information may be obtained. The condition also requires providers to appoint an alternate dispute resolution scheme (ADR) for dealing with unresolved disputes with domestic and small business customers. The ADR scheme must be approved by Ofcom and must form part of the provider’s code of practice. Ofcom has so far recognised two such schemes; Ombudsman Services: Communications and CISAS. One of the first things which Ofcom does when approached by a dissatisfied customer is to check whether the provider has an approved code of practice and has nominated an approved ADR scheme.
  • Condition 21 enables Ofcom to require providers to publish specific comparable information for end users on the quality of their services. Ofcom has not yet formally required any providers to publish such data, although providers of non mobile services with net quarterly relevant revenue above £4m and more than 100m call minutes per quarter have been strongly encouraged to publish such information. Ofcom is presently considering whether it should formally require (certain) providers to publish such information.

(c) Conditions which apply to providers of providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services or Public Telephone Networks (in addition to the preceding conditions)

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.

  • Condition 3 requires providers of public telephone networks or publicly available telephone services (excluding mobile networks or services) to take all reasonable steps to ensure the proper and effective functioning of the public telephone network at all times, including the availability of the network and service in the event of catastrophic failures, and to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency services.
  • Condition 4 requires providers to ensure that end users can access 112 and 999 services free of charge and, where technically feasible, make caller location information available to the emergency services.
  • Condition 5 requires providers to co-operate with government and the emergency services to provide services which are needed in the event of disasters.
  • Condition 8 requires providers to ensure that end users can access operator assistance services and directory enquiry services. Providers which allocate phone numbers to customers must also ensure that those customers are supplied, on request, with a directory of phone numbers for all customers which have been allocated a number in that local area (except for customers which have asked not be included in a directory). Providers must also make available directories containing the numbers of customers of any providers in any other area.
  • Condition 10 requires providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services to publish information about their standard prices (but not including bespoke prices) and standard terms and conditions. The condition specifies the minimum set of information which must be published and how it is to be published. This condition complements condition 9 by requiring that basic information is published at large to assist, for example, potential customers in choosing a provider, as well as being included in individual contracts as required by condition 9.The condition does not apply to providers of Public Payphone Services as condition 6 applies more specifically. Neither does this condition apply to services provided to other communications providers.
  • Condition 11 (paragraphs 4 to 8) applies only to providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services which had a turnover of more than £40million in the most recent complete financial year. The condition requires such providers to apply for approval of their metering and billing systems to a recognised approval body.
  • Condition 12 requires service providers to provide a basic level of itemised billing. Calls which are free of charge (such as calls to helplines) must not be itemised. The condition does not apply to prepaid services or where the customer has another means, free of charge, to monitor his expenditure.
  • Condition 13 requires service providers to publish details of the steps which they will take if bills are not paid. The condition also requires that those steps should be reasonable, and sets out some minimum requirements. This condition does not apply to mobile services
  • Condition 15 sets out a number of obligations to protect the interest of customers with disabilities. For example, the condition requires all providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services to provide particular groups of disabled customers with (i) suitable directory services including call connection services, (ii) access to text relay services which include particular facilities, (iii) access to priority fault repair services without payment of a premium, (iv) participation in a nominee scheme to safeguard service in the event that a bill is not paid and (v) copies of contracts and bills in a form suitable for visually impaired customers. Providers must ensure that the availability of these facilities is widely publicised in appropriate formats.
  • Condition 16 requires providers of public telephone networks, where feasible and viable, to provide tone dialling or dual tone multi frequency operation and calling line identity facilities on the network.

Finally, as mentioned previously, two of the General Conditions of Entitlement apply more narrowly;

  • Condition 6 sets out the obligations to which providers of Public Pay Telephones are subject (in addition to the other General Conditions which apply to such providers). The term Public Pay Telephone is defined in the Definitions section of the General Conditions of Entitlement and refers to payphones which are available to the general public (this includes payphones on private land such as in pubs, shopping centres and airports, as well as payphones installed on public land such as on streets). Providers must ensure that specific information is displayed on or around all Public Pay Telephones This information includes minimum charges, means of payment, the location of the telephone (to enable it to be located swiftly in an emergency, how to call the emergency services free of charge and without using coins or cards and whether the phone is able to receive incoming calls (if it is able to receive incoming calls the telephone number of the payphone must be given).The condition also requires such providers to ensure that users can access operator assistance and directory enquiry services from Public Call Boxes (which are defined in the condition as Public Pay Telephones permanently installed on public land and to which the public has access at all times). At least 75% of such Public Call Boxes must be accessible to wheelchair users (50% in the Hull area) and at least 70% must incorporate additional receiving amplification. Providers of Public Call Boxes must also consult Ofcom from time to time on any plans to change the design of Public Call Boxes which might affect disabled users, and on the quantity and location of Public Call Boxes with textphone facilities (Ofcom can direct providers to increase the quantity). Finally, if a providers wishes to stop providing telephone services from any Public Call Box it must prominently display, for not less than 42 days, a notice which gives warning of this and provides the name and address of the provider.
  • Condition 7 applies to providers of an “Appropriate Network”. This is a term defined in the Communications Act which relates to communications services which are used by significant numbers of people as their principle means of receiving television programmes. The condition allows Ofcom to require such providers to transmit or broadcast the services of public service broadcasters. The condition also requires providers to comply with any order by the Secretary of State concerning the terms on which such material is to be broadcast or transmitted. Ofcom has not as yet made any requirements of Appropriate Network providers under this condition.

Further information

The statement “The General Conditions of Entitlement” published by Oftel on 22 July 2003 contains further information about the General Conditions of Entitlement. The “Guidelines on the interconnection of public electronic communications networks” published by Oftel on 23 May 2003 contains further information about the concepts of Electronic Communications Networks and Electronic Communications Services.

Summary of which General Conditions apply to which types of provider (also see notes on the following page relating to types of providers)

Condition All providers of ECNs and ECSs Providers of public ECNs and ECSs Providers of publicly available t elephone 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

Notes

  • Providers of Electronic Communications Services or Networks 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. Nor does it include dealers who sell services on behalf of service providers but who do not have a continuing contractual relationship with the customer.
  • Providers of Public Electronic Communications Services or Networks excludes 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).
  • Providers of Publicly Available Telephone Services or Public Telephone Networks includes those who 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. It also includes most providers of PAMR services and common base station services (though services provided to closed user groups are not generally deemed to be publicly available). The position of providers of new types of voice services is presently being considered by Ofcom, and such providers should monitor carefully the developments arising from Ofcom consultation document and interim guidance entitled “ New voice services” published on 6 September 2004.