Prepared by Manfredi de Vita, Andrea Lensi Orlandi and Flavia Caltagirone
In a joint statement with European Commission, on 19 March 2020(1), on how network operators can cope with the increased demand of network capacity to prevent its congestion due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (“BEREC”) committed to a special reporting mechanism to ensure regular monitoring of the Internet traffic situation in each Member State.
This activity also concerned on collecting information about other measures implemented by National Regulatory Authorities (“NRAs”) and on initiatives by public and private parties.
Most recent update of the “Summary Report on the status of internet capacity, regulatory and other measures in light of the Covid-19 crisis” was published on May 22, 2020(2) and reflects data provided to BEREC by NRAs as at May 19, 2020.
However, with a broader perspective, in such document we are reporting most interesting results on the reporting activity carried out by European body of regulators from March onwards.
Regulatory actions implemented by NRAs
Regulatory actions implemented by NRAs so far mainly consisted in monitoring data provided by operators and internet service provider which reported on any exceptional measures adopted during the emergency period. Among the most common, it is noted:
- the increase in the amount of mobile data in subscriptions without any additional charges;
- the upgrade of the upload and/or download speeds; and
- the expansion of network capacity when needed.
To encourage the proper network utilisation among users, many NRAs launched information campaigns aimed at consumers, with practical recommendations on how to use consciously the web: in several cases, for example, large downloads or HD video streaming at peak times were discouraged, in order to avoid any possible overcrowding and to allow a fluid network use for essential activities, such as teleworking and e-learning.
At the same time, NRAs made recommendations to operators, calling for the adoption of user safeguards: among others, it was requested not to take any actions against consumers who cannot settle their bills and to monitor service interruptions at essential services sites (e.g., doctors’ premises).
In this respect, NRAs and operators are also working together to constantly provide correct telecom functioning within clinical infrastructures and other places of primary importance, by implementing emergency plans and assessing risks related to service continuity.
In particular regarding to communications, in several Member States specific COVID-19 freelines were set for medical purposes and to facilitate registrations for tests.
Another interesting attempt made by some NRAs in fighting disinformation is the explicit intervention to try to disprove the conspiracy theories concerning the alleged links between implementation of 5G and spread of COVID-19.
Similarly, NRAs – including Italian “Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni – AGCOM” – are also issuing continuous warnings in response to the increase in cyber-attacks (resulting in data breach) against electronic communications infrastructures recorded since the beginning of the outbreak.
Coronavirus impacts on network consumption
In general, from the beginning of COVID-19 spread in Europe until today, three phases within cyber-traffic trends may be registered: (i) an early strong increase, (ii) a stabilisation of consumptions and (iii) a decrease in utilisation, at the current state of use, although there was an increased use of telecom systems compared to pre-COVID time.
This tendency appears to be widespread throughout Europe where, even though data traffic on fixed and mobile networks increased during COVID-19 crisis, a general stability and an absence of significant congestion (initially feared by many) is recorded.
Back to current stage, traffic is now decreasing compared to the very beginning. This inclination is also confirmed by AGCOM (Italian NRA), which released the following data: current mobile data (average volume +29% during lockdown) and fixed data (average volume +57% during lockdown) traffic stabilisation. From the end of the first week of May until today, a drop-in internet traffic was confirmed, probably linked to progressive reopening of production activities.
Tech measures to track COVID-19 spread
Over the past months, BEREC requested NRAs to disclose existence of applications/solutions, adopted in their Member States, in order to monitor COVID-19 deployment.
As at May 12, 2020, 19 NRAs replied: among these, 13 Authorities clarified that at least one tech application/solution is actually in operation in the Member State, while 3 NRAs responded that, although not yet existing, it is intended to develop applications/solutions with this functionality.
Notably, in Austria, Red Cross organization made available an application to manage contacts and stem infection chain.
In Croatia an app called “Andrija” exists, which is not intended to track or monitor individuals, but to offer a guide for self-assessment of COVID symptoms’ presence. Spain and Poland are on the same page, in the latter State with the app called “ProteGo”.
In Italy (for more details about privacy issues please refer to “ICT in the service of public health: fighting Covid-19 through “app hits”, published on ICT & TMT Outlook by PwC TLS Avvocati e Commercialisti and available at: https://blog.pwc-tls.it/it/2020/04/23/lict-a-servizio-della-salute-pubblica-combattere-il-covid-19-a-colpi-di-app/ ) several applications were used at regional level to facilitate remote contacts with medical staff and health infrastructures; Italian Government also approved the use of an app for users tracing (“Immuni”) whose release was initially expected by the end of May.
However, it seems that the debate on its actual implementation (not yet exhausted) may result in a delay in its launch.
In any case, the source code from which app’s functionality can be deduced is currently available and images showing the interface were published.
Moving forward, worth mentioning is Belgian experience where data provided by three main mobile operators are used to determine the impact of quarantine.
Conversely, Government of Montenegro posts online citizens’ names in compulsory isolation, while in Slovakia tracking data of citizens who tested positive for COVID-19 are monitored by Government, based on information provided by mobile phone operators.
BEREC’s monitoring activity proves to be invaluable in understanding measures that Authorities are taking in Member States, in a perspective of increasing regulatory alignment that encourages the breaking down of “legislative” boundaries between Member States.
In addition, collecting information on current state of network is useful to understand how it effectively operates at European level, as well as to imagine what next “technological steps” shall be taken.
Clearly, understanding factual and legal context once the health emergency will be definitively disappeared is of the utmost interest: although it remains difficult to imagine what “permanent” effects will be produced on the most “intrinsically” human behaviour, there is no doubt that the environment in which we currently live will be irreversibly modified.
Regulatory interventions shall therefore necessarily have to be shaped in a different context.
A debate with “whatever will be” shall then allow to analyse emerging trends, at least in a useful effort to seek a common thread, or a result of research activity.
PwC TLS Avvocati e Commercialisti
PwC TLS Avvocati e Commercialisti
PwC TLS Avvocati e Commercialisti