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Authorisation of electronic communications networks and services

This directive is to harmonise and simplify the rules and conditions for authorising electronic communications networks and services in order to facilitate their provision throughout the Community.


Directive 2002/20/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on the authorisation of electronic communications networks and services (Authorisation Directive).


Directive 2002/20/EC is part of the "Telecoms Package", the new legislative framework for the electronic communications sector which replaces the existing legislation on telecommunications. The Package comprises four other directives relating to the general framework, interconnection, universal service and the protection of privacy. The “Telecoms Package” has been amended in December 2009 by two Directives “Better legislation” and the “Right of citizens”, as well as by the establishment of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).

Scope, objective and general principle

The provisions of this Directive cover authorisations for all electronic communications networks and services, whether they are provided to the public or not. However, they only apply to the granting of rights to use radio frequencies where such use involves the provision of an electronic communications network or service, normally for remuneration.

The aim is to establish a harmonised market for electronic communications networks and services by limiting regulation to the minimum that is strictly necessary.

The main innovation is the replacement of individual licences by general authorisations, while a special scheme for attributing frequencies and numbers continues to exist. According to this principle, the provision of electronic communications networks or services may only be subject to a general authorisation. In other words, the undertaking concerned may be required to submit a notification but it may not be required to obtain an explicit decision or any other administrative act by the national regulatory authority (NRA) before exercising the rights stemming from the authorisation. Undertakings providing cross-border services shall not be required to submit more than one notification per Member State concerned.

A clear distinction is made between the conditions applicable under the general authorisation and those linked to the rights to use radio frequencies and numbers.

Minimum rights derived from the general authorisation

The general authorisation gives undertakings the right to provide electronic communications networks and services and to negotiate interconnection with other providers in the European Community. When such undertakings provide electronic communications networks or services to the public, the general authorisation makes them eligible to be designated to provide certain universal service functions.

Rights of use for radio frequencies and numbers

Member States shall facilitate the use of radio frequencies through general authorisations, but they may make the use of radio frequencies subject to the grant of individual rights with a view to:

  • avoiding harmful interference;
  • ensuring technical quality of service;
  • safeguarding efficient use of spectrum;
  • ensuring the fulfilment of other general interest objectives defined by Member States.

Decisions on rights of use must be taken and made public as soon as possible after receipt of the complete application by the NRA. This must be done within three weeks in the case of numbers that have been allocated to be used within the national numbering plan, and within six weeks in the case of radio frequencies that have been allocated for specific purposes within the national frequency plan.

Conditions attached to the general authorisation and to specific rights of use

The general authorisation and the rights of use may be subject only to the conditions listed in the Annex to the Directive relating to:

  • financial contributions to funding of the universal service;
  • interoperability of services and interconnection of networks;
  • accessibility and portability of numbers– portability means that users have the option to keep their telephone number when they change operator;
  • rules on privacy protection and, more specifically, the protection of minors;
  • obligation to transmit certain television and radio programmes ("must carry");
  • environmental and town and country planning requirements;
  • possible imposition of administrative charges on undertakings;
  • restrictions concerning the broadcast of illegal content;
  • use of the radio spectrum.

Procedure for limiting the rights of use for radio frequencies

Where a Member State is considering whether to limit the number of rights of use to be granted for radio frequencies or whether to extend the duration of existing rights in accordance with specific terms, certain conditions and procedures have to be followed, such as consultation of all interested parties, publication of any decisions together with the reasons, and the review, at reasonable intervals, of the limitation.

Where the granting of rights of use for radio frequencies needs to be limited, Member States must grant such rights on the basis of selection criteria which must be objective, transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate.

Where a Member State concludes that further rights of use for radio frequencies can be granted, it must publish that conclusion and invite applications for such rights.

Compliance with the conditions of the general authorisation or of specific rights of use

The NRAs monitor and supervise compliance with the requirements of the general authorisation or the rights of use and specific obligations.

Where an undertaking does not comply with one or more of these conditions, the NRA must give it a reasonable opportunity to state its views or remedy any breaches within a reasonable period. If the undertaking concerned does not remedy the breaches within the set period, Member States may empower the relevant authorities to impose orders to cease or financial penalties. In cases of serious and repeated breaches, the NRAs may prevent an undertaking from continuing to provide electronic communications networks or services or suspend or withdraw rights of use.

Administrative charges and fees

The NRAs are authorised to impose administrative charges on undertakings providing a service or a network under the general authorisation or to whom a right of use has been granted. Administrative charges may include costs for international cooperation, harmonisation and standardisation, market analysis and regulatory work. The imposition of administrative charges requires NRAs to publish a yearly overview of their administrative costs and of the total sum of the charges collected.

The competent authority may also charge a fee for the rights of use of radio frequencies and for rights to install facilities.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal

Directive 2002/20/EC



OJ L 108 of 24.4.2002

Amending act(s) Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal

Directive 2009/140/EC



OJ L 337 of 18.12.2009

The successive amendments and corrections to Directive 2002/20/EC have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Directive 2009/140/EC [Official Journal OJ L 337 of 18.12.2009].


Commission guidelines on market analysis and assessment of significant market power pursuant to the Community regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services [Official Journal C165 of 11.7.2002].
In compliance with the new regulatory framework for communications services, these guidelines, which were adopted in July 2002, set out the principles on which the national regulatory authorities must base their market analysis in order to guarantee effective competition.

Last updated: 21.05.2010
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