European governments cannot force mobile providers to pay for providing a minimum service to disadvantaged people, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
The Universal Service Directive requires EU countries to make basic communication services “such as making a phone call from a fixed location at an affordable price or receiving national and international calls” available to everyone, including people with special needs or low income.
Authorities may share the cost of these obligations between different providers.
In 2013, Belgian telcos Base and Mobistar brought an action before the Belgian Constitutional Court for the annulment of a financing mechanism that requires payment of a contribution by operators whose turnover reaches, or exceeds, certain thresholds.
The operators said the directive doesn’t apply to mobile communication service and internet providers such as them, and in Thursday's judgment, the ECJ ruled that the term “at a fixed location” means the opposite of “mobile”.
The court pointed out that countries are free to consider mobile communication services, or internet subscription services, as additional mandatory services - but they can't force the companies to cough up.
As well as the basic connectivity rules, the 2002 directive also requires every EU country to make available a comprehensive telephone directory of all subscribers, and ensure a “sufficient number of payphones are available in public areas.”
Perhaps it’s time for an update. ®