UK: Review Of Local Loop Unbundling In Europe

Last Updated: 1 November 1999


Local loop unbundling is entering into its early stages in Europe. Several European countries have already introduced local loop unbundling and others are undertaking consultations in this area. With the advent of xDSL technologies that provide high bandwidth services over the copper loop, unbundled access to the local loop presents a competitive alternative to network build, including broadband wireless. Operators in Europe are positioning themselves to bring high bandwidth services to customers as demand for these type of services takes off. This review considers the position of local loop unbundling in several of the major European countries and also at the European Union level.


In Europe local loop unbundling is still in its infancy and although some commercial offers have emerged there is no consensus amongst the various countries on this issue. There are currently four countries where commercial agreements are currently in place. These are Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden. The operators in two further countries (Austria and the Netherlands) have announced or are close to announcing commercial terms although no agreements are currently operating. It is general practice that these commercial offerings are on the basis of a lease of the local loops from the incumbent network operator and not an outright assignment of the copper loop. Further, a substantial proportion of the legacy incumbent operators are developing or trialing their own xDSL offerings to the public. Accordingly, there is an increasing awareness of the possibilities presented by xDSL technologies. The roll out of the technologies is anticipated to increase following the clarification of the regulatory position and the publication of suitable commercial offerings in the various European countries.


At present, there is no pan-European requirement for network operators to grant access to the local loop for the installation of competitor's equipment to upgrade the local loop. However, there are generic obligations imposed on European countries by legislation passed at a European Union level requiring operators with "significant market power" (SMP) (please see endnote 1) to grant "access" (particularly "special network access") to their networks. The European Commission has recently published guidance on how this European Union legislation could be used in practice to encourage operators with SMP to provide access to the local loop.(please see endnote 2)

Notwithstanding the obligations to grant access at a European level, many of the national regulatory authorities in the countries concerned have commenced public consultations on the scope and timetable for unbundling the local loop. The United Kingdom and France are consulting and are close to pronouncing a regulatory framework, whilst the regulatory authorities in Ireland, Italy and Portugal are also in the process of consulting with interested parties. In the near future it is anticipated that a detailed regulatory framework will be created in all these countries to provide access to the local loop for the installation of xDSL technologies.


The European Union has been active in the area of telecommunications with the objective of establishing a common and competitive market for telecommunications services within the member states of the European Union. This has been achieved by the adoption of various legislative acts (Directives) which each Member State is required to implement and give effect to in national law. This strand of EU law, intended to create a competitive market, is known as the Open Network Provision Directives (ONP Directives). The objective of the ONP Directives is to harmonise conditions for open and efficient access to, inter alia, public telecommunications networks. Access to networks is specifically addressed under two main provisions of the ONP Directives. The provisions are not specific and are drafted in broad terms and do not specifically address the issue of access to the local loop network. The Commission's note discussed above provides guidance on the application of these provisions to access over the local loop.

Under the provisions, organisations with significant market power (generally the former incumbent) are required to meet reasonable requests from other organisations for access to the fixed public network at points other than those points commonly used for the purposes of interconnection ("special network access" or SNA). This potentially includes access to the local loop. One of the provisions outlines reasons for which such a request may be rejected, these being that technically and commercially viable alternatives are available or that the access requested is inappropriate in relation to the resources available to meet that request. As can be seen, the success of a request for access to the local loop will depend largely upon the actual circumstances prevailing within each country.

However, the Commission states in its guidance note that EU member states are free to impose unbundling obligations on operators with SMP in order to encourage competition. Such unbundling requirements are to be supplemented by regulatory measures to safeguard competition in the long term (for example by not eliminating the incentives to construct alternative networks) including provisions such as time limits and progressively increasing tariffs.

Although the above provisions do not amount to a specific obligation to provide access to the local loop, an established European operator will be able to request such special network access from operators with SMP. Where the relevant operator rejects this approach the operator could seek the intervention of the relevant national regulatory authority in order to try to enforce the above provisions.

Other relevant provisions of the ONP Directives provide that operators with SMP are not allowed to discriminate on the supply of services to other operators. Operators with SMP shall provide interconnection facilities (this could include the operator's own xDSL service) to other operators under the same conditions and of the same quality as they provide to their own service provider divisions or subsidiaries. Hence, where the local operators with SMP set up their own xDSL services they must resell that service to other operators on equivalent terms.

The ONP Directives also address the issue of co-location. National regulatory authorities are required to encourage sharing of facilities and properties. Agreements for co-location are normally a matter for commercial and technical agreement between the parties. The National Regulatory Authority may intervene to resolve disputes. There is provision for co-location to be imposed but only after a period of public consultation allowing all interested parties to give their views. As mentioned above, this process has started in several EU member states.

The European Commission commissioned a study at the end of 1998 on recommended practices for co-location and other facilities sharing for telecommunications infrastructure. The study concluded that effective co-location could be encouraged by the early establishment of the regulatory framework setting out the views of the regulator and determining the charging regime. The resultant certainty is intended to provide an environment where all parties are able to focus on practical issues. The report seeks to provide guidance in achieving the regulatory framework by identifying "General Principles" to be defined by national regulatory authorities and "Recommended Practices" to assist operators. Although the study only offers guidance at a macro level it may be a useful guide on the development of co-location policy in EU member states.

The Commission has stated that the issue of local loop unbundling may be the subject of a Commission notice or recommendation in the near future.

A general principle of EU telecommunications law that has potential to impinge upon the unbundling process is the obligation for designated operators to provide universal service. Each member state must decide how universal service is dealt with as the local access loop is unbundled. Should the designated universal service operator retain the obligation to provide the minimum prescribed services, should the obligation pass to the operator acquiring the local loop or will the customer waive its right to the minimum services?


1. Operators with significant market power are designated as such by the national regulatory authority. Organisations with 25 % or more of the relevant market in a given geographical area are presumed to have SMP. Notwithstanding the presumption the national regulatory authority retains a discretion whether or not to designate an operator as having SMP.

2. ONPCOM 99-33 "Access to fixed and mobile network infrastructures owned by operators designated as having significant market power"

The content of this article is intended to provide general information on the subject matter and is not a legal advice. An individual matter requires legal advice according to the specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.