The purpose of the universal service is to guarantee that a basic offering of telecommunications services is made available to all categories of the population and in all the regions of the country. These services must be affordable, reliable and must be of a defined quality.
Telecommunications are of great importance not only for the economy but also for consumers and for society. The Confederation must therefore ensure that an adequate universal service is provided at affordable prices in all regions of the country (Art. 92 of the Federal Constitution). This principle is enshrined in the 30 April 1997 Telecommunications Act (TCA), one particular objective of which is to enable effective competition in telecommunications services whilst guaranteeing that a reliable, affordable universal service is provided to all categories of the population and throughout the country.
Meeting users' needs
Since its liberalisation on 1 January 1998, it has been the market which must in principle meet the needs of users. However, in some circumstances, in particular in the peripheral regions, users might not enjoy basic telecommunications services. The universal service prevents the incidence of such cases as it guarantees the population a basic offering for the telecommunications services which are deemed the most essential.
Adaptations to the universal service
According to Article 16, para. 3 TCA, the Federal Council can periodically adapt the services forming part of the universal service to the needs of society and the business world and to the state of the art. The Federal Council last exercised this option on 2 December 2016 in order to define the scope of the universal service from 2018 onwards.
In order to ensure that the universal service is guaranteed in Switzerland, the Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) awards one or more licences which oblige one or more telecommunications service providers to offer the services forming the universal service. This type of licence is in principle awarded on the basis of a public invitation to tender, the procedure of which must be implemented in accordance with the principles of objectivity, non-discrimination and transparency. If the tender procedure fails, for example if it has not taken place under conditions of competition or if no suitable candidate has come forward, ComCom may call upon one or more telecommunications service providers to provide the universal service. ComCom exercised this option on 19 May 2017 by designating Swisscom as the universal service licensee from 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2022.
The company Swisscom has provided the services forming part of the universal service since the opening-up of the telecommunications market in 1998. The first universal service licence was awarded to it under the transitional provisions of the law, for an initial five years (1998-2002). A second licence for the period from 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2007 was also awarded to Swisscom following the first public invitation to tender organised since liberalisation. On 21 June 2007, ComCom again designated Swisscom as the universal licensee, for a period of 10 years, from 1 January 2008 to 31 December 2017.
If provision of the universal service involves costs which cannot be covered despite efficient management, the licensee may request financial compensation which is financed by levying a charge on all telecommunications service providers with a defined turnover. The amount of financial compensation is split between the operators on a pro rata basis, according to their turnover in telecommunications services. To date, the universal service licensee has not applied for any financial compensation.
Last modification 01.01.2018