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In the spring of this year, over 70 representatives from the cantons, parties, trade unions, the business community and other associations had the opportunity to give their views as part of the public consultation on updating the list of services forming the universal service. The results of this consultation were used by the Federal Council as the basis for amending the Decree on Telecommunications Services (DTS).
The connections currently available as part of the universal service have been supplemented by a new type of connection permitting internet access at a minimum transmission rate of 600 / 100 kbit/s. An upper price limit of CHF 69 (excluding VAT) has been set for this service which includes not only the broadband connection but also a voice channel, a telephone number and an entry in the public telephone directory. The new upper price limit will be re-examined in 2010 in order to take account of developments in the broadband connection market, a market which is still growing rapidly and where further price reductions are possible.
In order to minimise the cost of including broadband access in the universal service, it is envisaged that, in exceptional cases, the future licensee could reduce the transmission rate.
Two new measures to promote the social integration of disabled people are also to be incorporated into the list of services forming the universal service. The first consists of the provision of an SMS relay service – in addition to the existing transcription service – for the hearing impaired. The second is the expansion of the directory and switching service to people with limited mobility, who cannot dial telephone numbers because of their disability.
The directory enquiries service, call diversion and advice of charge have been removed from the obligations of the universal service. These services will continue to be provided in Switzerland on the open market by numerous providers so subscribers will have alternatives at their disposal. Furthermore, in certain cases, the services no longer fulfil an essential need or are stifling technological progress.
The new DTS lays down a single upper price limit for national telephone calls in the fixed network. This is 7.5 cents per minute (excl. VAT), which is 32% below the current upper price limit for the normal rate and 17% below for the low rate, thus simplifying the tariff structure and following the market trend. Given the intensive competition in telephony, subscribers are assured of obtaining the services they want at a reasonable price.
Despite the spectacular growth in mobile telephony, the obligation to provide a specific number of public call boxes will be maintained. Some changes have been introduced to the system for limiting the price of calls from call boxes. The price of calls from a public call box will therefore no longer be indexed to the price of calls from private telephones in the fixed network. Only the national upper price limit of 7.5 cents per minute will apply.
The Federal Council’s approval of the amended DTS has now fixed the content of the future universal service licence. The foundation has therefore been laid for ComCom to launch a public call for tenders in the autumn for the award of a licence which will enter into force on 1 January 2008.
What is the universal service?
Supplementing free competition in a liberalised market, the universal service is a safety net to ensure that a set of basic telecommunications services is provided throughout Switzerland at an affordable price and at a fixed quality. The content of the universal service is examined periodically by the Federal Council. Provision of the universal service is guaranteed by the award of a licence following a public call for tenders organised by the Federal Communications Commission (ComCom).