On February 27 the Italian Ministry of Communications has issued a decree on numbering regulation, with relevant implications on the telecommunication market in Italy. Following the general principles set forth on the 1995 EC Green Paper on the liberalisation of telecommunications infrastructure, the Communications Ministry has indicated the new regulation on numbers as essential element of telecoms services and effective competition.

As known, the allocation and utilization of numbers and codes is one of the crucial topics in the development of the fully competitive regime, and intermingles with strategic services such as international and domestic long distance services, equal access, easy access, dial-around, closed user groups and toll-free services. It has been estimated that long-distance carrier competition could save the European users as much as 20 to 25 Billion Euros per year. Especially delicate is the question of allocation of so-called "added-value" numbers with particular commercial value.

The Ministry Decree is an essential step in the current process of liberalisation, and for the alignment of Italian numbering regulation to EU principles. Under such Decree, specific regulation has been introduced in strategic areas, such as:

  • Geographic Numbering. Numbers will be assigned in blocks of 10,000 consecutive numbers for every local area. For this purpose the national territory has been divided by the Ministry Decree of November 25, 1997, in 696 local areas, common to all Telecom Operators. Numbers may be reserved by the TOs but should be effectively used within three months of the definitive assignation; the Communications Authority will check effective use and will decide on the revocation of unused numbers.
  • Mobile and satellite services numbering. Until 2001, these services will be identified, as they are now, with the code "3XY". The same rules of geographic numbers regarding reservation and effective use apply.
  • Carrier selection with "easy access". The Decree details the structure of carrier selection codes. Access codes made of our digits (e.g. "10XY") will be reserved for carriers with a specified technical capacity and providing their services on the whole of the Italian territory. All other carriers will be given five-digits access codes, with the format "10XYZ". In this respect Italy does not seem to have followed the example of France, where the access code for national operators is of only one digit.
  • Carrier selection with "equal access". The Decree contains provisions similar to those relating to easy access; the service will be offered "according to the evolution of international technical standards" and in any case within January 1, 2000.
  • Customer care codes. Three-digits codes have been reserved for mobile and personal service providers; four-digits codes for operators providing their services on the whole of the Italian territory and satellite service operators. All others TOs will be given a six- digit code.
  • Freephone services. Starting from February 1, 1999, all codes currently used (e.g. 167XXXXXX) will have to be changed to comply with the EU prevision of a pan-European freephone code. This process will be completed prior to December 1, 1999.
  • Premium services. The Ministry has maintained the current codes (i.e. 144 and 166). Different operators will be identified by the first single digit after these codes (e.g. 144X, 166X).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.