In the last few days, the Italian Government and the Italian Communications Regulatory Authority (Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni – “AGCOM”) adopted a number of measures requiring electronic communications and IT operators to help even further in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Law Decree to “Cure Italy”
On 17 March 2020, the Italian Government enacted Law Decree No. 18/2020 (commonly referred to as the “Cure Italy Decree” – document in Italian here) to strengthen the National Health Service and to support families, workers and businesses in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Cure Italy Decree contains – among others – specific measures for electronic communications service and network providers as well IT public procurement provisions.
1. Measures relating to electronic communications service and network providers
Up until 30 June 2020, in order to cope with increased utilization of electronic communications services and traffic surge on electronic communications networks:
(i) electronic communications service and network providers must take all measures and useful initiatives to enhance the infrastructure and guarantee the functioning of the networks and the operation and continuity of services;
(ii) publicly available electronic communications service providers must adopt all measures that are necessary to enhance and guarantee the uninterrupted access to emergency services;
(iii) electronic communications service and network providers must meet users’ reasonable requests for improvement in network capacity and quality of service, prioritizing requests made by those bodies and sectors that the emergency units of the Government or of the Regions have qualified as “priority”;
(iv) publicly available electronic communications service and networks providers are “companies of public interest” and they must ensure interventions for the enhancement and maintenance of the network in compliance with health and safety regulations and anti-infection safety protocols;
(v) all the above-mentioned providers must notify all those measures adopted as above to AGCOM which will have to amend the current regulatory framework should the amendment be necessary to pursue the aims of the decree.
As stated also in the technical report attached to the Cure Italy Decree, these rules aim at prompting infrastructure enhancement interventions and at ensuring the offering of electronic communication services that are capable of supporting the growth of traffic consumptions and the management of traffic peaks that are generated by the people’s need to carry out activities at home (smart working, e-learning) or to spend time at home using the Internet or the traditional voice and data services for news, communications, entertainment, online shopping.
2. Fast track IT public procurement for the development of information systems
Until 31 December 2020, the Cure Italy Decree also allows State agencies to purchase IT products and services (preferably based on SaaS cloud model) as well as connectivity services, through a fast track direct contracting procedure without going through public calls for tender.
Eligible procurement concerns those purchases related to projects consistent with the “Three-year plan for information technology in the public administration” (Piano Triennale per l'informatica nella Pubblica Amministrazione – available here in English).
In order to benefit from such fast track procedure, public administrations will have to:
(i) select the supplier from, at least, four enterprises, including at least one so-called "innovative start-up" or "innovative small and medium-size enterprise";
(ii) notify the Government about the activation of the fast track procedures;
(iii) obtain the supplier’s affidavit that it meets with various financial and technical requirements, it is compliant with tax and social security rules and it has no grounds for exclusion under anti-bribery and anti-mafia rules.
These provisions are intended to speed up the public procurement procedures when these concern IT components and connectivity services for the public administration and are relevant for the offer of IT products and services to State agencies.
The actions taken by AGCOM in relation to the electronic communications sector
AGCOM is adopting a number of decisions and resolutions to elaborate in detail the electronic communications related obligations contained in the Decree.
Below is a summary of these actions.
1. Actions on AGCOM’s funding fees
On 18 March 2020, AGCOM enacted its resolution No. 111/20/CONS which allowed operators will annual turnover below EUR 50 million to pay the administrative fee due to AGCOM within 15 June 2020 rather than 1 April 2020 (the latter being the ordinary deadline).
2. AGCOM’s circular letter on the initial measures contained in the Cure Italy Decree
On 20 March 2020, AGCOM issued a circular letter elaborating the obligations set forth by the Cure Italy Decree (“Circular”) and setting a number of measures relating to Telecom Italia (“TIM”) and all other operators.
In relation to TIM, AGCOM:
(i) approved the TIM proposed decrease in the wholesale costs of the Ethernet band on copper and fiber networks;
(ii) allowed the reduction of the regulated notice period – from 30 days to 10 days – for the sale of new access infrastructures, in case of availability of new NGA cabinets. This provision will apply up until 30 June 2020;
(iii) required TIM to deploy maximum effort to accelerate, as much as possible, the provision of transport equipment and VLAN (NGA and VULA KIT 10GB, SVLAN) which are necessary to increase the bandwidth of other operators and to allow the early opening of new NGA cabinets. To this end, TIM must provide AGCOM with the information necessary to monitor such initiatives. Also this provision will apply up until 30 June 2020.
In addition, all operators authorized to provide electronic communications networks and services must:
(i) strive to identify technical solutions for an immediate increase in the fixed network average bandwidth per customer of at least 30%. Where this is not technically feasible, operators must promptly provide AGCOM with all useful information for AGCOM’s assessment of such unfeasibility;
(ii) assess, up until 30 June 2020, every available broadband or ultra-broadband radio access solution (FWA) to be used through shared password (single shared access) in case of lack of fixed broadband and ultra-broadband network coverage, upon request of buildings;
(iii) recommend consumers, via usual communication channels, to use at home mainly fixed access (also Wi-Fi) in order not to overload the mobile network;
(iv) assess the possibility of technical measures to allow the sharing of their users’ Wi-Fi hotspots with third parties’ users, for possible sharing of excess capacity;
(v) propose to AGCOM reasonable and temporary traffic management measures, if any, aimed at avoiding congestion or saturation of fixed and mobile networks, especially during peak hours. Such measures are subject to verification by AGCOM and must be consistent with the current regulatory framework and with the initiatives approved by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC);
(vi) propose measures to simplify and facilitate the remote top-up of SIM cards, through online procedures;
(vii) watch that marketing activities carried out by call centers and marketing agencies be compliant with customer protection laws and regulations;
(viii) propose measures to allow, up until 30 June 2020, flexibility should customers be late in the payment of access services. Operators must address their proposals to the permanent committee set up by AGCOM in connection with COVID-19 related measures.
The above measures are immediately applicable.
Next steps and key takeaways
As AGCOM has expressly stated in the Circular that this is the first set of electronic communications related measures approved to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it is reasonable to expect additional measures in the near future. All stakeholders should therefore be ready to take those steps required by the authorities, including AGCOM, or to justify deviations.
The above-mentioned permanent committee established by AGCOM is the forum where such measures will be discussed with operators. The outcome of the analyses carried out within the committee will constitute the basis for AGCOM to elaborate possible new strategies as the situation of the outbreak evolves.