Communications as an essential service during COVID-19 confinement


Austria has taken precautionary measures regarding internet use, although at present there is no reason to worry that the available networks will not be able to withstand increased use.

As internet traffic in Austria has reached an all-time high due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Austrian Regulatory Authority for Broadcasting and Telecommunications (RTR) has introduced a measure which allows mobile operators to throttle certain online services (e.g. video streams) in an emergency, while other services (e.g. government information portals) have to be transmitted at constant speed. RTR also sent a letter regarding the measure addressed to the Association of Internet Service Providers Austria, the Association of Alternative Telecommunications Network Operators and the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.

Ultimately, however, it is the operator who decides whether or not to apply such a traffic management measure; in any case, strict reporting obligations must be complied with. Such a traffic management measure also raises questions with regard to the European regulation on net neutrality. In this context, RTR has already pointed out that the European regulation allows exceptions to network neutrality in order to avoid congestion.

In addition to an exceptional increase in internet traffic, the use of telecom networks has also reached a peak, but there is sufficient capacity to cope with this increased usage.

With a view to reducing network load during the COVID-19 crisis, RTR also recommended connecting computers via cable instead of Wi-Fi and adjusting the bandwidth for video streaming via the setting options in the video streaming apps.

The impact of COVID-19 on the launching of 5G networks

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has already had an impact on the granting of licences, as the Telekom-Control Kommission (TKK), which is responsible for regulating Austrian telecoms, issued a decision on 30 March 2020 to postpone the second 5G auction, which was scheduled for April. The decision is a reaction to the measures taken by the federal government to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

TKK also pointed out that it is still too early to set a specific new date for the second 5G auction, but in general Austria plans to impose staggered obligations for its 5G rollout. A new date will be announced as soon as it is clear that the auction can be carried out in accordance with the requirements. In any case, the second 5G auction should take place before the end of 2020.

TKK also emphasized that the 5G rollout is not endangered by the postponement, as sufficient frequency resources were already left on the market in the first 5G auction last year to allow mobile operators to cover urban areas with flowing data traffic.

In order to avoid shortages in financial and organizational resources, the TKK has staggered the deadlines for operators to fulfil the rollout obligations associated with the individual 5G awards. The coverage obligations associated with the frequencies in the 3410-3800 MHz range which were allocated in 2019’s 5G auction are currently pending and must be fulfilled by the end of 2020.

While the TKK emphasized that it is aware of the possible effects of COVID-19 crisis management measures on compliance with the rollout deadlines set last year, the TKK will continuously evaluate the situation and take the necessary decisions within the scope of legal possibilities.

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