Book Review: EU Telecommunications Law

December 2, 2018

Recent events in the SCL’s bailiwick regarding the ever closer prospect of no ever closer union have had a number of unintended consequences. One of those consequences is a heightened degree of political and press interest in the degree to which various aspects of economic and market regulation have been ‘Europeanised’ over the last few decades. The notion of the ‘single market’ or even the ‘digital single market’ masks a great deal of variation between industries and between various fields of activities.

Within the worlds of communications and IT law, though, telecommunications (or ‘electronic communications’ in the language of the relevant instruments) represents an area where the European Union influence has been particularly obvious. With liberalisation being of course part of the story of reforms in the 1980s in the UK, certain changes were less painful for this land than for fellow member states. Nonetheless, much of the heavy lifting in terms of governing the pursuit of telecoms activity, and the control of the power of the various players, is now done by a set of Directives and other instruments. With a landmark and interwoven set of provisions dating from 2002, a number have been revisited – and the reach into other fields (such as data protection, broadcasting, and the like) continues to be controversial.

Andrej Savin’s new book on ‘EU Telecommunications Law’ (Edward Elgar 2018) is therefore likely to be of interest to readers of Computers & Law for a number of reasons. Most notably, it is at it heart a European Union book, taking as its starting point the provisions of EU law, and not attempting to provide a catalogue of domestic provisions. The author – a scholar at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark – has already given us a text on ‘EU Internet Law’ with the same publisher (now in its second edition), which the author of this review has had the great pleasure to set as a text for students on a number of occasions. Both books equip readers with a clear understanding of the roles performed by the key instruments in the field, setting out for the reader – whether in the UK or elsewhere – the notable provisions, including their relationship with Treaty provisions and implementing acts or ‘soft law’ documents where applicable.

Over the course of eleven chapters, Savin tells the story of the significance of telecommunications law to the European project of market integration, and the significance of the European dimension to the fate of companies and consumers in the sector. The early steps in publications such as 1987’s green paper on a common market for telecommunications systems are given well-deserved weight. Yet this is also a book of the present day; recent efforts to revisit the 2002 ‘package’ once more are given due weight throughout. 

Credit should be given for the inclusion of chapters on telecommunications law in its wider context. We see discussion of policy issues like universal service, a cross-cutting discussion of consumer issues, and brief introductions to data protection, cybersecurity, and audiovisual services. The level of detail varies; the discussion of audiovisual services does not include any discussion of CJEU caselaw, though the author’s intention may have been to familiarise the telecoms-focused reader with the broad parameters of cognate fields. Savin’s approach can generally be described as focused on the substantive provisions, though reference is made to the most interesting recitals at times, and a certain frustration with the opaqueness of lobbying and the legislative tendency to add new provisions without attending to the completeness or coherence of the overall body of law occasionally bubbles to the surface. 

In a short book like this, it was surely not possible for the author to set the EU approach in much of a comparative context. Periodic references are made to the United States, though the arguably more innovative approaches of regulators elsewhere (e.g. Canada and South Africa) are not considered. On the other hand, a highlight is the overview of emerging issues, such as investment incentives, ‘over the top’ services, and the ongoing saga of net neutrality. As readers of Computers & Law and will recall from the excellent contributions of Neil Brown, Chris Marsden, and others, the initial sound and fury regarding this topic has been replaced by more detailed consideration of the nuts and bolts of interconnection, zero-rating, and the like. In this regard, Savin’s engagement with the work of BEREC (the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, which brings together the national regulatory authorities and has grown in confidence over the present decade), as the place where the answers to today’s difficult questions are likely to be debated, is important.

Savin notes the reputation of this field as ‘difficult and somewhat uninspiring’. Your reviewer had the good fortune to teach a Masters module on telecommunications law some years ago (though with a slightly sexed-up title, out of fear of that very conclusion), and contributes a chapter to a longer UK-focused telecoms book (now reaching its fifth edition). Like Savin, I hope that that the uninspiring label gives way to a proper recognition of the significance of the field in today’s industrial strategies and policy dilemmas. His helpful overview of the field will be a useful record of the Europeanisation of the sector, and surely of interest to those teaching the topic or an aspect of (by whatever label) or to anyone seeking a clear and cogent account of a complex set of Directives.

Daithí Mac Síthigh, Professor of law and innovation at Queen’s University Belfast, Member of the SCL Advisory Board

About the book

  • EU Telecommunications Law
  • Author: Andrej Savin, Associate Professor, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
  • Hardback, £95; eBook at Google Play, and other vendors (prices vary, but considerably lower than the hardback).
  • Extent: 352 pp: 
  • ISBN: 978 1 78643 179 0