Communications as an essential service during coronavirus (COVID-19) confinement 


Pursuant to the German Federal Network Agency, so far, no network congestion has been reported in Germany as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The networks are currently stable. The network operators in Germany have also taken all precautions to maintain network operations in the best possible way. In the event of a network congestion, they can apply permissible traffic management measures in accordance with the Net Neutrality Ordinance. To this end, the Federal Network Agency has developed a guideline for the telecom industry containing solutions and measures for permissible traffic management.

Furthermore, the Post and Telecommunications Security Act of 24 March 2011 (PTSA) guarantees a minimum level of provision of telecom services. It is applicable to companies who provide telecom services to more than 100,000 subscribers, provide connections for these services, or provide the transmission paths specified in the PTSA (telecom companies). The telecom companies shall maintain the following telecom services provided by them: the publicly available telephone service, data transmission services, including internet access services, and electronic mail services. Telecom companies which provide connections required for the aforementioned services or which provide transmission paths must maintain these services. Transmission paths with data transmission rates above 50 Mbit/s must be maintained by the telecom company with a data transmission rate of at least 50 Mbit/s.

Right to retain performance for consumers and small companies

The German Act to mitigate the effects the COVID-19 pandemic in civil, insolvency and criminal procedure law establishes – inter alia – a right to retain performance for consumers and small companies with respect to continuing obligations. Therefore, a consumer may hold back a payment obligation which has arisen in connection with a consumer contract which contains a continuing obligation and closed before 8 March 2020. It shall be retained until 30 June 2020 if the consumer as a result of circumstances attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, the provision of services to the performance without endangering his reasonable means of subsistence or a reasonable standard of living of his dependent relatives would not be possible. The right to retain performance exists also in respect in respect of all material continuing obligations. Material continuing obligations are those which are necessary to cover the services of the appropriate services of general interest are required. The same applies regarding the payment obligations of small companies. Even in such a case, the (telecom) services cannot be suspended during the moratorium period.

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

As far as we see, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have no impact on the rollout of 5G networks in Germany. The German Federal Network Agency has not yet issued a decision on an extension of the timeframe for meeting the coverage obligations in connection with the 5G frequencies auctioned in 2019.

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