The COVID-19 lockdown and its impact on telecommunications in Ukraine
In the current conditions of isolation and restrictions of movement, remote work and education, the world is becoming even more dependent on reliable connectivity services. The importance of stability of telecommunications in the light of COVID-19 should not be underestimated.
Like in many other jurisdictions, to ensure an uninterrupted consumers’ access to telecommunications in the light of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ukraine, telecommunications have been directly exempted from restrictive measures introduced by the Regulation of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine No. 211 dated 11 March 2020. More specifically, the main telecom-related exceptions from the general prohibition on the operation of business entities accepting visitors, as well as the restrictions of movement, are as follows:
- sale of means of connection and telecommunications, provided the established physical distancing measures (not more than 1 visitor per 10 square meters of sale area) are complied with, staff and customers are provided with individual means of protection and other epidemic and sanitary requirements are complied with;
- activity on connecting customers to the Internet, services on provision of access to the Internet and mobile top-up, provided staff and customers are provided with individual means of protection and other epidemic and sanitary requirements are complied with;
- transportation of employees of business entities and institutions which ensure connection and communications.
Furthermore, since isolation, the possibility to access information only through use of means of communications and remote working conditions lead to an increase in the consumption of telecommunication services, the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine in its mandatory Recommendations dated 26 March 2020 urged major mobile operators to prevent violation of legislation on protection of economic competition, namely, to refrain from undertaking any of the following actions:
- increase the cost of tariff plans;
- closure of social, low-cost and minimal tariff plans;
- automatic (forced) change to more expensive tariff plan;
- reduction in quality of services.
Finally, at the level of the National Commission for the State Regulation of Communications and Informatization (NCSRCI), as the state authority in charge of telecommunications, the COVID-19 lockdown has had the following main impact:
- the NCSRCI cancelled its unscheduled inspections of subjects of telecommunications and users of the radiofrequency resource as well as scheduled inspections of users of the radiofrequency resource, which should have started after 16 March 2020;
- joint actions with the State Enterprise Ukrainian State Center of Radiofrequencies and the National Police of Ukraine aimed at detecting and terminating violations in the area of telecommunications are postponed for the period of quarantine;
- the NCSRCI continues consideration of applications for issuance or prolongation of licenses on the use of radiofrequency resource and permits on numbering resource. However, these documents are being issued in electronic form, while issuance of these documents on paper forms is postponed till the end of quarantine. At the same time, upon request, scanned copies of licenses on the use of radiofrequency resource and permits on numbering resource may be sent to applicants via email.
Reality and prospects
The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on telecommunications in Ukraine has been rather moderate so far as compared to other national sectors and industries. Ukrainian operators and providers of telecommunications face and/or may face the following major operational challenges and outcomes in view of the changed landscape due to the COVID-19 outbreak:
- switching to the remote working mode to the extent possible, including the operation of a function like call centers; still some specific functions require on-site presence and travelling which cannot be avoided. For example, points of offline retail continue their operations to support provision of telecom services; technical and equipment engineers make site visits to perform service and installment works to continue supporting and widening current networks despite the lockdown;
- re-distribution of consumption of telecom services. For example, extensive reduction of roaming services in contrast to growth of voice calling, FTTB-data and OTT-services;
- supply of telecom equipment may potentially be put at risk due to disruptions to global supply chains.
The COVID-19 restrictions are, little by little, becoming weaker in many countries. However, the future remains quite uncertain. Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will not hit Ukrainian operators and providers of telecommunications harder, and they will continue ensuring the availability of quality services and network resilience, widening their networks and rolling out new services.
By Natalia Kirichenko, legal director at DLA Piper Ukraine