The Belgian Federal government has adopted a so-called "avant-projet" of the Bill transposing the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications.
The text will now be examined by the Council of State, acting as a body providing an opinion on compliance with the Constitution, other legislation, Belgian "légistique", etc. before a Bill can be presented to the Federal Parliament, presumably just before the Parliamentary Summer recess. It is therefore already a certainty that Belgium will miss the deadline for transposition of the EU Directives by well over 1 year (the deadline was 25 July 2003).
Updated 25 May 2004: The final text of the "avant-projet" was released to industry players on 25 May 2004, and T-REGS has obtained a copy from the Belgian authorities. T-REGS is in a position to compare this with the multiple drafts of the text it has obtained since mid-2002 up to and including versions of the past few weeks and days. For a discussion of issues of substance relating to transposition of the EU directives in Belgium, please contact Yves Blondeel.
The press release issued by the Federal government highlights one of the controverial points in the Belgian federal structure: the question as to whether the Federal government can impose the principle of gratuitous rights-of-way for telecommunications networks on the public domain, including the public domain that falls under the responsibility of the Regions and of municipalities. The Federal government has decided to maintain the previously applicable principle of gratuity, thereby confronting the Flemish Region in particular, which adopted a Decision in 2002 instituting "retributions" for the use of its public domain (in actual fact, the Flemish Region adopted a modification to this Decision just last week, but it still maintains "retributions" on backbone networks). Also, some municipalities, most recently the town of Jette in the Brussels Region, have instituted rights-of-way taxes.
T-REGS is very involved in rights-of-way regulation in various EU Member States, including Belgium. A presentation on rights-of-way issues in Belgium, dating back to January 2003 (therefore somewhat outdated, but still quite relevant to today's developments), can be accessed by clicking here.
The Federal government's press release also emphasises changes to Universal Service policy, which was the subject of wide-ranging discussions between the political parties represented in the Federal government. Obligations to provide a specific number of public payphones are substantially reduced, and making available so-called "social tariffs" (discounted subscriptions) will become an obligation also for mobile operators.