Committee okays new bill on electronic communications

Ljubljana – The Home Policy Committee has endorsed a bill on electronic communications after an almost identical bill had been voted down over concerns about the independence of Slovenia’s electronic communications agency and provisions seen as being directed against Huawei. Some opposition parties maintain the new bill ebcroaches on the agency’s autonomy.

The bill, which is being fast-tracked, was endorsed at Tuesday’s session of the parliamentary body in what is the government’s second attempt to pass the legislation that would transpose a relevant EU directive into Slovenian law.

“The transposition of this directive promotes connectivity and the use of high-capacity networks across Slovenia, facilitates consumers’ switching between service providers, which will now be free of charge, and ensures affordable broadband access to the internet, which will allow a wide range of services for all consumers, regardless of their location or income,” Digital Transformation Minister Mark Boris Andrijanič told the committee members.

The minister noted that Slovenia was late in transposing the directive, which had already led to the threat of a lawsuit by the European Commission. If the bill is not adopted in parliament, Slovenia will surely have to pay a fine of at least EUR 710,000, and then an additional EUR 5,000 per day, he said.

The proposal also envisages the establishment of a public notification and alert system, and would ensure greater coverage of the country with broadband infrastructure and strengthen the security of internet services, the minister added.

The previous bill was voted down by MPs in February. What raised a lot of dust at the time was its provisions barring high-risk vendors from the market, which was seen as a move against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

In the new bill these provisions have been somewhat modified. The parliament’s legal service warned that criteria for identifying high-risk suppliers laid down in the bill were vague and partly contradictory, however relevant amendments drafted by the Government’s Digital Transformation Office and tabled by coalition MPs followed the legal experts’ remarks and contributed to clarity on the matter.

Responding to the minister, MP Jani Möderndorfer from the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) said that the threat of the fine for being late in transposing the directive had been there already in December, but the government had not requested for the bill to be fast-tracked then.

Möderndorfer finds particularly controversial the provisions on the security of networks and services which allow for the exclusion of certain vendors from the market and prevent operators in Slovenia from using their equipment. According to him, these provisions are directed against Huawei, and the bill therefore violates the constitution with regard to the right to entrepreneurship and free economic initiative.

Both Möderndorfer and Nataša Sukič, a Left MP, also warned that the bill encroaches on the autonomy of the Agency for Communication Networks and Services (AKOS), with the former noting that the criteria for the dismissal of AKOS director were too vague.

Centre-left opposition members of the committee would back the bill if it meant only a transposition of the EU directive.

Meanwhile, Huawei presented a legal opinion a week ago saying the bill had shortcomings which could lead to lawsuits at the EU court and disputes at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The parliament will vote on the bill either on Wednesday or Thursday.