The foundations of the universal service

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 assuring that a reliable, affordable universal service is provided to all categories of the population and throughout the country.

Demand-oriented service offering

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 assures the population a basic offering for the telecommunications services which are deemed the most essential. If a comparable offer is available on the market for the customer in question, the universal service licensee may decide not to make an offer.

Technology neutrality

The universal service obligations in telecommunications law are designed to be technology-neutral, i.e. fixed network, satellite or mobile radio technology as well as a mix of different technologies can be used to provide the services. The universal service licence holder decides which technology is used in each individual case.

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 16 December 2022 in order to define the scope of the universal service from 2024 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 15 May 2023 by designating Swisscom as the universal service licensee from 1 January 2024 to 31 December 2031.

The licensee

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. In 2016, as in 2022, ComCom carried out an assessment of the interests of the providers on the Swiss market who are fundamentally suitable for providing the universal service. This revealed that only Swisscom is interested in providing the universal service with telecommunications services. ComCom therefore decided to dispense with a call for tenders for both licence periods and to call upon Swisscom to provide the universal service.


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.

Specialist staff
Last modification 01.01.2024

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