Abstract

This policy brief was developed by the Secretariat of the OECD Network of Economic Regulators (NER) and is based on examples of practice submitted by members of the NER. It reviews emergency measures taken by economic regulators during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure continuity of services in network sectors, as well as to adjust regulatory practices and adapt governance arrangements. It identifies long-term questions and implications of the crisis with regard to market structure, infrastructure investment and the role of regulators.

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Key messages
  • The effective functioning of e-communications, energy, transport and water sectors (“network/infrastructure sectors”) has ensured the delivery of essential services during the global COVID-19 emergency. Despite significant changes in service usage and financial and operational stress on market actors, the continuity of operations attests to the resilience of these markets and of their governance models.

  • In OECD countries, network sectors are usually regulated by independent economic regulators, responsible for ensuring market efficiency and the quality, reliability and affordability of services. The increased co-ordination between regulators and other actors, and their contributions to the definition and implementation of emergency responses, have demonstrated the relevance of the role of regulators in this model.

  • The crisis has also illustrated the capacity of regulators for agile and innovative action, and lessons can be drawn for flexible and responsive regulation for the post-crisis period.

  • In the short-term, regulators led and took part in a suite of short-term emergency measures during the COVID-19 crisis. These have targeted immediate threats to the operation of markets and have addressed issues such as continuity of service, the increase in vulnerable customers and the financial security of operators. Regulators have also adjusted their regulatory practices to reduce the burden on market actors and at times, on their own resources.

  • In the longer-term, the transparent monitoring and phasing out of emergency measures will be key to maintaining predictability of state action in the economy. The rapid implementation of a wide range of measures has been a stress test for evidence-based, accountable and independent decision-making. Where requirements for ex-ante impact assessments and public consultations were waived or diminished, post-implementation reviews for maximum accountability will help to maintain trust in regulatory decision-making.

  • Going forward, markets will continue to be transformed by the economic, social and behavioural effects of the crisis and related government measures. A more active role of the state in response to the crisis may affect market structures and competition in sectors that had been previously fully liberalised. Regulators and policy makers need to balance the benefits of measures that limit risks for operators and ensure business continuity against potential costs in terms of affordability and efficiency of services. The disruption may, on the other hand, be seized as an opportunity for a massive transition to low-carbon infrastructure across sectors. In this context, economic regulators can provide in-depth data, objective advice and technical decision-making regarding the efficiency and resilience of new economic/market models.

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Abbreviations and acronyms

ACCC

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 

ACM

Authority for Consumers and Markets (Autoriteit Consument en Markt)

AER

Australian Energy Regulator

AMT

Mobility and Transport Authority (Autoridade da Mobilidade e dos Transportes)

ANEEL

Electricity Regulatory Agency (Agência Nacional de Energia Elétrica) 

ANTT

Agency of Land Transportation (Agência Nacional de Transportes Terrestres)

ARERA

Regulatory Authority for Energy, Networks and Environment (Autorità di Regolazione per Energia Reti e Ambiente)

ART

French Regulatory Transport Authority (Autorité de Régulation des Transports)

BNetzA

Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railway (Bundesnetzagentur)

BTK

Information and Communication Technologies Authority (Bilgi Teknolojileri ve İletişim Kurumu)

CER

Canada Energy Regulator 

CNMC

National Authority for Markets and Competition (Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia)

CRE

Regulatory Commission of Energy (Commission de Régulation de l'Energie)

CTA

Canadian Transportation Agency 

EETT

Hellenic Post and Telecommunications Commission (Εθνική Επιτροπή Τηλεπικοινωνιών και Ταχυδρομείων)

ERSAR

The Water and Waste Services Regulation Authority (Entidade Reguladora dos Serviços de Águas e Resíduos)

ERSE

Energy Services Regulatory Authority (Entidade Reguladora dos Serviços Energéticos)

FASFCA

Federal Antimonopoly Service

Financial Conduct Authority 

IFT

Federal Telecommunications Institute (Instituto Federal de Telecomucaciones)

ISP

Internet Service Provider

NER

OECD Network of Economic Regulators

NRA

National Regulatory Authority

Ofcom

Office of Communications 

Ofgem

Office of Gas and Electricity Markets 

ORR

Office of Rail and Road 

OSIPTEL

Supervisory Agency for Private Investment in Telecommunications (Organismo Supervisor de Inversión Privada en Telecomunicaciones)

PSR

Payment Systems Regulator

RAS

Regulatory Authority for Railways (Ρυθμιστική Αρχή Σιδηροδρόμων)

Traficom

Transport and Communications Agency (Liikenne- ja viestintävirasto)

VERT

National Energy Regulatory Council (Ralstybinė kainų ir energetikos kontrolės komisija)

VPN

Virtual Private Network

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Introduction

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought to light the lack of preparedness of health systems in many countries and lessons will be drawn for the purposes of future policy and planning. But what of other sectors, such as those linked to the delivery of essential services like energy, e-communications, transport, or water and waste management? As lives and ways of working have been radically transformed, these sectors have been placed under stress. With services moving online and remote working becoming the new normal, for example, demand for mobile and internet data has witnessed a surge (BEREC, 2020[1]); (OECD, 2020[2]). In contrast, as energy consumption has decreased, systems have been burdened with excess capacity (IEA, 2020[3]). While demand for passenger transport has collapsed, freight transport has had to continue to support trade in crucial goods and supply chains (ITF, 2020[4]). These evolutions call into question the efficiency of operations, the capacity of networks, or the financial solvency of operators. They have posed the simultaneous challenge of adequately responding to the crisis today and considering implications for tomorrow.

In many OECD countries, network sectors that are based on natural monopolies are regulated by arms-length economic regulators. Data from the OECD Indicators on the Governance of Sector Regulators shows that in OECD countries, a majority of regulators in the energy (86%), e-communications (83%) and rail transport (82%) sectors are independent bodies with adjudicatory, rule-making or enforcement powers (as distinct from regulators that are ministerial departments or agencies). The figures for air transport and water are lower, at 50% and 72%, respectively (OECD, 2019[5]).1 While the exact terms of reference and powers of regulators vary across jurisdictions, in general they are tasked with ensuring the efficiency of the market and the quality, reliability and affordability of services. Some regulators also retain sector-specific competition or consumer protection responsibilities. All in all, even in normal times, economic sector regulators often have to juggle competing objectives.

This policy brief looks at how economic regulators have responded to ensure the functioning of sectors under their purview during the crisis. It documents actions by regulators across three dimensions. The first looks at emergency measures to ensure that the market continues to function and deliver, such as the prioritisation of critical services or initiatives designed to provide financial support to customers and operators. The second examines adjustments to regulatory practices designed to alleviate the regulatory burden on market actors (regulatory easements) or demand on the regulator’s own resources at a time of crisis. The third highlights areas where the regulator has had to adapt its governance arrangements through, for example, heightened co-ordination with the executive or accelerated decision-making processes. Finally, the last section of the policy brief looks at longer-term questions and implications of the crisis with regard to market structure, infrastructure investment and the role of the regulator.

The objectives of this brief are: i) to analyse trends and share economic regulators’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis, and ii) to identify critical questions for the continued resilience of systems. It is too early to take stock of the effectiveness of emergency measures, but the criteria and quality assurance processes used for decision-making, the design and transparency of monitoring, or the time-bound nature of initiatives or regulatory easements will be important measures of the governance and legitimacy of the crisis response. Moreover, the actions of today will shape tomorrow, inevitably affecting the structure of markets or capacity for infrastructure planning in the medium-term.

The policy brief builds on the work of the OECD Network of Economic Regulators (NER) on the performance and governance of economic regulators over the past seven years. More specifically, it draws on contributions by regulators on their COVID-19 responses as well as the NER webinar series on sector regulation during and after the crisis.2 It forms part of a series of papers on the COVID-19 crisis developed by the OECD Regulatory Policy Division, starting with a framing piece on Regulatory Quality and Covid-19: Managing the Risks and Supporting the Recovery3 and encompassing five other contributions.4 This work is published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the OECD. The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of OECD member countries. It was prepared by the Secretariat and submitted for comments to the Network of Economic Regulators. It may be edited and improved over time as more information becomes available.

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Ensuring markets continue to function and deliver

The downturn in economic activity and the unprecedented change in the usage of network services have placed market actors under stress. Likewise, customer and operator finances have been significantly affected by the crisis and its economic impacts. While there are distinct differences between sectors, these evolutions constitute new and rapidly changing challenges for economic regulators. A suite of emergency measures initiated by governments and regulators targeted immediate threats to the operation of markets addressing issues such as continuity of service, the increase in vulnerable customers and the financial security of operators. Practice across countries shows convergence in approaches to prioritise continued service delivery across sectors; the effective functioning of critical services during the crisis attests to the resilience of markets and their governance. The transparent monitoring and the evidence-based phasing out of emergency measures will be key to maintaining predictability of state action in the economy going forward.

Ensuring the continuity of service

The delivery of critical services to support the economy and relief efforts have been prioritised by regulators across the world. In the energy sector, Portugal’s Energy Services Regulatory Authority (ERSE) has required network operators to prioritise the supply of energy to priority installations, such as hospitals. In the transport sector, rail regulators have protected essential supply chains by implementing priority use of the rail network. This has been the case in France, where the transport regulator, Autorité de Régulation des Transports (ART), helped ensure that traffic give priority to freight trains to favour the maintenance of supply chains of critical sectors (such as agriculture, industry, health). Similarly, in Greece, the Regulatory Authority for Railways (RAS) has taken measures such as proposing an extension of the validity of certificates and licenses to keep freight trains in operation. In France, while the drop in passenger traffic has made the prioritisation of freight easier, the regulator continues to monitor path allocation and operational traffic management to ensure that there is no discrimination in network access.

Prioritising continuity of service has in certain cases led to allowing activities that may have been considered anti-competitive in normal times, taking into account the change in circumstances in the market and the immediate social and economic needs. For example, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a suite of interim authorisations to address problems faced by industry participants. In doing so, the regulator weighed the public benefits offered by the authorisation against the possibility that the activity would alter the competitive dynamics of the market in the future. In Spain, the National Commission of Markets and Competition (CNMC) acknowledged in a press release that the crisis may justify certain forms of company co-operation if it is necessary to achieve, for example, improvements in the supply of essential products (Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia, 2020[6]). Similarly, the British Office of Rail and Road (ORR) took a more flexible approach to some instances of co-operation between companies if it is deemed necessary and appropriate to improve delivery of essential products or maintain services for the transport of critical workers.

Regulators have also responded to significant changes in patterns of demand by involving customers in demand management. This has been a particularly salient issue in the e-communications sector, where regulators have provided important information and helpful tips for customers to effectively manage their increased demand for network connectivity. Ensuring stable access to the network is especially important to enable mass teleworking, distance education and e-health services during the pandemic. The Mexican e-communications regulator, the Federal Institute of Communications (IFT), issued recommendations to consumers for behaviour adjustments to avoid saturating the network. Similarly, the New Zealand Commerce Commission released tips to improve broadband performance.

Protecting essential workers to ensure continuity of services has also emerged as a priority for regulators across jurisdictions. Portugal’s Water and Waste Services Regulation Authority (ERSAR) issued recommendations for operators to protect workers involved in waste collection and treatment, in collaboration with the Portuguese Environment Agency. The UK’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) issued guidance to suppliers, including information on conditions for home visits. The regulator stated its expectation that essential home visits would be maintained to ensure customers have services and the energy supply is safe, clarifying that it understands suppliers might deprioritise other visits during the pandemic. On the other hand, many inspection and enforcement activities have been suspended, described in more depth in the section on “Implementing regulatory easements”.

Supporting vulnerable customers

Consumer protection and the implementation of measures designed to support vulnerable customers is an important function of many sector regulators. As unemployment has surged across OECD economies and many businesses have been forced to close temporarily, capacity to pay for services has been placed under stress. In this context, many regulators have taken actions to prohibit disconnections of service or offer assistance to consumers experiencing financial difficulties. Some regulators have restricted disconnections outright. The Australian Energy Regulator published a statement of expectations for energy providers, which included an expectation that they would not disconnect residential, small or large business customers without their consent before the end of July 2020. It asks providers to “[b]e prepared to modify existing payment plans if a customer’s changed circumstances make this necessary”. Similarly, France’s Commission de regulation de l’énergie (CRE) extended the ‘winter truce’ by two months to the end of May 2020 during which time suppliers cannot disconnect households from electricity or natural gas provision. Others have emphasised that operators should continue to apply reduced tariffs for consumers with financial difficulties as worsening economic conditions may cause this group of consumers to grow. For example, the Portuguese water regulator, ERSAR, stressed in a FAQ available to operators that operators should continue to apply eligibility criteria for reduced tariffs to consumers in financial difficulty.

In addition to action on disconnections, regulators are putting into place requirements to alleviate the burden of debt on consumers struggling to pay their bills. Portugal’s ERSE issued extraordinary measures to help consumers in the energy sector. The ERSE measures extend the 20-day prior notice period before providers can disconnect customers by an additional 30 days, effectively suspending disconnections during the crisis period (until 30 June 2020). The measures also require suppliers to allow consumers to pay back debt accumulated during this period in instalments of up to 12 months, with no interest. ERSE also requires that network operators put in place a payment plan for suppliers to pay the network charges for those consumers, also with no interest.

Regulators are also supporting consumers by helping them find accurate information about the crisis and available support, contributing to the fight against “fake news” and encouraging the uptake of appropriate advice. The UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom), launched a communications campaign to counter misinformation about connections between coronavirus and 5G networks. The Mexican e-communications regulator IFT co-ordinated with the federal government and industry actors to ensure that consumers would receive free text messages with announcements and information about the crisis. In addition, IFT has compiled offers of support for consumers from service providers on its website, ranging from free access to the government coronavirus site and the application of more favourable rates and conditions of service for customers. The site organises offers for customers by service providers, allowing customers to easily identify and compare relevant offers. The New Zealand Commerce Commission compiled an information sheet for consumers that includes information on locating financial support for e-communications services and instructions on resolving disputes with broadband providers.

Maintaining financial security of operators

Governments across the world are implementing relief packages to counter the economic effects of the pandemic, including policies to increase liquidity and curb bankruptcy risk, such as deferral of tax, financial support for debt repayment, or temporary support to wage payments (OECD, 2020[7]). In some cases, governments have provided state aid to support specific firms in distress. Regulators are acting as part of this whole-of-government effort in their areas of competence, namely with regard to monitoring and maintaining the financial solvency of operators in network sectors. Regulators have put in place a range of measures to help industry actors to cover financial shortages and recover from economic loss. In some cases, this has included imposing limits on normal costs or penalties. For example, to protect particularly affected suppliers from default, Portugal’s ERSE has imposed a moratorium on the payment of access to the network for suppliers with invoices falling more than 40%. In the Italian electricity sector, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, Networks and Environment (ARERA) has added a cap and floor to costs for dispatching units that do not manage to predict their consumption. French energy regulator CRE has taken measures to support alternative suppliers that had purchased electricity at a price agreed in advance, and now find themselves having to sell on the market at a lower price, placing them in a situation of financial vulnerability. In Brazil, the government implemented measures to ensure electricity distribution companies can recover costs related to additional loans they may have to take out during the pandemic. When implementing relief measures, thereby limiting the risks for operators, regulators and policy makers need to assess the benefits of all options against the potential costs for consumers in terms of affordability and efficiency of services, and make sure a level playing field is maintained.

Tariff adjustments may also help operators recoup unexpected costs linked to the pandemic. Changes in wholesale prices are prompting the Lithuanian National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT) to review household tariffs. The tariff review may also include consideration of costs to industry from deferrals or payments in instalments from consumers, interest costs of loans and costs of protection measures from companies.

Finally, in some jurisdictions, regulators are entrusted with overseeing emergency funds designed to support operators. For example, Italy’s ARERA sets the rules for how emergency funds for the energy sector are disbursed through specific funds.

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Adjusting regulatory practices

In parallel to the range of financial measures designed to support operators at this time, regulators have been adjusting regulatory practices to reduce the burden on market actors. Adjustments range from exempting operators from certain regulatory obligations, introducing more administrative flexibility, changing compliance and enforcement approaches to suspending dispute resolution processes or rescheduling public consultation procedures. Such measures reflect regulators’ recognition that the COVID-19 pandemic may affect the ability of regulated entities and other stakeholders to participate in activities, respond to requests or comply with regulatory requirements. Suspending or deferring certain routine practices may also help regulators themselves be more agile by freeing up resources – in particular staff time – to focus on crisis response actions.

Regulators face the challenge of demonstrating flexibility in developing, applying and enforcing regulations without compromising on their mandate, be it consumer protection, safety or ensuring competition in the market. This balancing act will continue into the medium term as regulators decide how and when to end regulatory easements and revert to normal practice.

Implementing regulatory easements

Many economic regulators have introduced some form of regulatory easements, ranging from explicit exemptions from usual regulatory obligations to greater administrative flexibility:

  • Across the board, regulators are demonstrating administrative flexibility, extending or suspending deadlines for various processes. New Zealand’s Commerce Commission has extended deadlines on a range of regulatory reporting processes. Greece’s rail regulator (RAS) has suspended deadlines of administrative procedures carried out with operators. Brazil’s ANTT has given additional time for regulated companies in the rail, passenger transportation and road freight sectors to comply with contract obligations. In Australia, the ACCC will continue to consider proposed mergers but recognises timelines for some reviews/applications (including those with statutory timeframes) may need to be extended if there are challenges in conducting and completing the necessary inquiries with merger parties and market participants due to COVID-19.

  • In several cases, regulators have suspended some performance targets and incentive regimes. Not only do the reporting processes often require significant resources for operators, many of the regimes no longer make sense in sectors such as transport where the drop in demand has been dramatic. In France the transport regulator (ART) accepted the suspension of the performance regime at the request of industry to prevent the payment of penalties for the cancellation of train paths. Germany’s transport regulator and the UK’s Office of Road and Rail (ORR) have taken similar measures.

  • Regulatory exemptions have been introduced in several sectors. In the transport sector, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) provided temporary adjustments to the airline’s requirement to pay compensation to customers for flight disruptions within their control and to allow them to nimbly adjust operations as the situation evolved and focus imperatives like repatriating citizens stranded abroad; Germany’s transport regulator has waived ex ante regulation which required any new terms and conditions to be reviewed by the regulator.

  • With respect to enforcement, many regulators have suspended, deferred or minimised the use of inspections or adjusted usual practices due to the difficulty in both carrying out these activities in light of movement restrictions and social distancing requirements, as well as to reduce the burden on operators. In some countries, inspectors have needed to be officially recognised as essential workers in order to be authorised to continue working. Lithuania’s VERT has cancelled all scheduled and unscheduled inspections. Australian regulator ACCC will conduct those compulsory examinations that it deems necessary by phone or video conference, and will take into account the burden when making decisions about the scope and timing of statutory notices for the production of information and documents. Canada’s energy regulator (CER) is deferring all low-risk screening activities, while Greece’s RAS is suspending many of its supervisory activities.

  • Some customer support and dispute resolution processes have been put on hold. Canada’s CTA has put a stop/pause on all its mediation, adjudication and facilitation processes. Brazil’s ANTT has stopped any ongoing cases for fining companies. Other regulators have chosen to continue such processes but have switched to remote forms of working to respect social distancing requirements. In Peru, the e-communications regulator (OSIPTEL) has suspended face-to-face customer support services but is maintaining its services through call centres and social media. In Portugal, the energy regulator (ERSE) has continued to provide phone support to consumers, with calls forwarded directly to staff from the responsible team who are working from home.

  • Some regulators have chosen to delay the introduction of new regulations or specific provisions therein. Canada’s CTA decided not to delay the introduction of new transportation regulations on accessibility, but informed operators that it may consider requests for reasonably short delays of the effective date for specific provisions if companies can demonstrate significant investments of time and resources that would be required to comply.

The government rather than regulator may issue directives to increase flexibility for regulated entities. For example, in France, governmental measures announced through an ordinance on 25 March suspended all ongoing procedures and postponed administrative deadlines for the transport sector (Légifrance, 2020[8]). In some cases, government directives nevertheless leave room for a degree of discretion by regulators for independent and technical decision-making. For example in Spain, the government also suspended all administrative procedures but allowed public bodies to act in case of public interest issues. The Spanish regulator CNMC took advantage of this leeway to continue working on issues of access to transport infrastructure, which it regarded as urgent.

In contrast to the broader trend for regulatory easements, in some cases regulators have fast-tracked the introduction of new regulation or increased demands on operators in areas such as service quality. In Greece, e-communications regulator, the Hellenic Post and Telecommunications Commission (EETT), is prioritising measures that promote the provision and quality of services and accelerate the implementation by operators of the guidelines on open internet regulation. This in large part reflects sectoral differences in the effects of the pandemic.

Adjusting practice through a “pragmatic approach” vs. through emergency regulation

Regulators are taking different approaches to regulatory easements. In some cases, regulators have issued emergency regulations or developed specific guidance on how operators should proceed. Portugal’s water regulator (ERSAR) has introduced flexibility for operators around quality control procedures for water testing and provided detailed requirements on how this should be carried out. ERSE, Portugal’s energy regulator, issued a new regulation to extend regulatory deadlines and oblige network operators and suppliers to keep the regulator informed of their contingency plans. A second regulation was issued to reinforce the initial measures and extend the application of the regulation until 30 June 2020.

Other regulators have informed regulated industry that regulatory requirements remain in place but that they will be taking a pragmatic approach to compliance. New Zealand’s Commerce Commission has stated that it will be pragmatic in cases where companies can demonstrate that any compliance issues have arisen as a consequence of prioritising efforts to protect customers, security of supply and safety or as a consequence of factors entirely outside of the company’s control. It has also requested that regulated entities inform the regulator of any breaches. The UK’s Ofgem is taking a similar approach and has published a framework on regulatory flexibility for its wholesale energy and retail suppliers that outlines expectations on networks/suppliers for what is high priority now and must be delivered, and what can be deprioritised if necessary.

In general, relaxing rules requires a degree of trust that operators will not abuse the situation. Some regulators have warned industry that leniency could stop immediately if there is evidence that they are taking advantage of the situation for commercial gain. Taking a pragmatic approach rather than issuing new regulation to define expectations arguably requires even stronger relations and higher levels of trust between the regulator and the regulated industry.

The choice of approach also depends on the degree of flexibility within the existing legislative or regulatory framework, which gives the regulator more or less room for manoeuvre in its ability to adapt regulatory practices. A number of UK regulators (ORR, Ofgem, Ofcom) have been able to adapt regulatory practices without issuing new regulations. Other regulators without this flexibility have had to use emergency regulation to make changes. Whatever the approach to making regulatory easements, effective and often intensive communication with stakeholders has been needed.

Collecting data on sector performance

Decisions around data collection represent a particular challenge for regulators. While data reporting can be resource intensive for operators, regulators need to monitor developments in the markets they oversee more than ever during this time of crisis. Data collected by regulators is frequently a vital input into decision-making, both for the regulator and the executive.

Regulators have taken different positions on this issue. Several regulators have suspended routine data reporting requests. The Italian energy and environment regulator (ARERA) has stopped requests for data and is performing ex ante assessments based on data that it already holds. Conversely, some regulators are putting increased focus on data reporting for market monitoring purposes, but are often being more flexible on how regulated entities can provide the information (e.g. by phone, email…) and on the timelines for submitting data. Some regulators, such as the UK’s Ofgem, have balanced new requests for information with more flexibility in timelines and deprioritising other data requests so as not to increase the overall burden.

Adapting stakeholder engagement and public consultations

Many public consultations have been deferred or put on hold, recognising the limited ability of stakeholders to take part and engage in regulatory policy debate. Sometimes regulators have taken a risk-based approach to deciding which consultations can be delayed or postponed, and are continuing with consultations that they consider time-critical or a particular priority (e.g. Ofgem). When regulators are continuing with public consultations, they are being organised remotely. Lithuania’s VERT, for example, is proceeding with all scheduled public consultations remotely.

By contrast, in some cases additional, often expedited, consultations are taking place with stakeholders on regulators’ COVID-related measures. For example, Lithuania’s VERT is running a public consultation on amendments to regulation that would see the costs arising from the pandemic being taken into account in regulated prices. The United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority ran a 72-hour consultation period (covering a weekend) in relation to measures aimed at easing financial burden for retail lending consumers (FCA, 2020[9]). Here regulators must consider the trade-off between the speed of decision-making required and the need for consultation with stakeholders. In general, the nature of consultation on emergency regulation tends to be more frequent but informal compared to stakeholder engagement under normal conditions. The United Kingdom’s Ofcom has held more roundtable meetings between the regulator, government and industry in the crisis period than in the preceding six months.

Defining the time-bound nature of easements or adjustments

Just as regulators must decide how long to keep in place extraordinary measures to ensure the functioning of markets, they are also thinking about how long adjustments to regulatory practices should last. Some adjustments have been announced with clear end-dates, which can be extended depending on the evolution of the situation. Many others do not specify a time period.

Regulators are taking into account several considerations. One consideration is how long adjustments to regulatory practices can be continued without impeding the ability of the regulator to carry out its core functions and meet its objectives, or without distorting markets in the case of regulatory exemptions. Australian regulator ACCC has stressed the time-bound nature of the measures it is taking in response to COVID-19, stating that it wants to ensure any changes to the competitive landscape now are temporary. Restarting public consultation processes will need to take into account when stakeholders will have the capacity to engage. Another consideration is the workload of the regulator. Regulators that have paused dispute resolution processes, for example, will be faced with the task of catching up with the backlog of consumer complaints and ongoing cases. The longer these processes are on hold, the greater the task for the regulator to catch up. For dispute resolution processes in particular, there is also an issue of fairness: how long is it reasonable to expect customers or market actors to wait for a resolution of their case? This consideration is key for continued trust in the regulatory system and its decisions.

These questions of how and when to start unwinding adjustments to regulatory practices will require effective communication with stakeholders and many of those conversations have already begun.

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Adapting governance arrangements

A number of elements such as regulators’ role clarity, predictable funding and transparent and accountable decision-making contribute to a sound and predictable regulatory framework.5 The emergency response and the development of policies for the post-crisis economy require regulators and the public administration in general to trade their traditional toolboxes in for more agile and collaborative versions. The rapid implementation of a wide range of measures across all economic sectors in response to the crisis has been a stress test for evidence-based, accountable and independent decision-making. Practice across countries shows that closer co-ordination between all levels of government has enabled quick action and regulators have sought to apply consistent criteria for decision-making. Regulators have in some cases adjusted their internal governance to the required specialisation and rapidity of decision-making.

Co-ordinating at the international, national and sub-national level

Regulators have been essential cogs in the machinery of the emergency response by governments, either by supporting the design of measures, supplementing governmental measures, or by putting into application detailed rules to support governmental policies. For example, ARERA in Italy has published detailed amendments in respect of waste management regulations as a consequence of changes in national law, and presented its set of measures to the parliament and government. In the UK, the FCA published new guidance (FCA, 2020[10]) on government-backed loan schemes for businesses.

As such, there are examples of closer co-ordination and exchange of information between government and regulators, given the deep and real-time knowledge of regulators for the sectors that they oversee and the need for data by governments designing emergency responses. For example, several regulators such as the United Kingdom’s Ofcom and Italy’s ARERA report more frequent contacts between the regulator and operators, public institutions and local regulators, through formal co-ordination roundtables. Given the varying impact of the health crisis across national territories as well as the active role of sub-national authorities in the provision of services such as transport and water, regulators have also consulted and co-operated closely with the local government. For example, the Autoridade da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (AMT) in Portugal reports working closely with local authorities in designing appropriate measures for the transport system, since local authorities have the knowledge, know-how and contact with a large number of small operators at the local level.

Co-ordination of responses and information exchange between regulators is also taking place internationally, especially where networks predate the crisis, such as the OECD Network of Economic Regulators (NER). Sectoral and regional networks have also facilitated co-operation between regulators, such as the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) that issued a joint statement with the European Commission on coping with the increased demand for network connectivity due to the COVID-19 pandemic (BEREC, 2020[1]). BEREC is furthermore providing regular reports on the status of internet capacity and on the regulatory and other measures implemented by its constituent regulators in light of the Covid-19 crisis (e.g. (BEREC, 2020[11])).

There are no examples of co-ordination or collaboration between different sector regulators intervening in one jurisdiction, for example with regard to support to vulnerable customers or market actors. Any differences in approaches between regulators with responsibilities for one sector as opposed to multiple sectors may be an area for further analysis in this regard.

Making decisions at a time of crisis: criteria and process

Given the speed at which the crisis and its effects have unrolled, regulators have had to balance the need for evidence-based and robust decision-making with the required speed of decisions. Deciding the degree of flexibility to grant operators requires careful consideration. Reducing the regulatory burden on industry so that essential services continue to be delivered needs to be balanced with other objectives, such as customer protection or competition. Regulators have taken different approaches when making these decisions, often in a context of considerable pressure from industry for sweeping exemptions. To strike the appropriate balance, a number of regulators have established criteria when deciding the degree of flexibility to grant operators.

One approach, followed by Canadian transport regulator CTA, is to be as focused and targeted as possible in its exemptions, based on an analysis of the precise needs of the airline companies. In this case, the regulator still requires a rationale and supporting data for relaxing or suspending regulations, although it may accept lower levels of evidence than it would in normal circumstances.

Sometimes the degree of flexibility is a function of where a regulator has decided to set a limit on which activities could be scaled back. The United Kingdom’s ORR chose to be more flexible in its enforcement of certain regulatory requirements but drew the line at passenger protection, ensuring that regulation concerning vulnerable groups, the provision of information to customers and compensation remained in force.

In other cases, criteria include a time component. The United Kingdom’s energy regulator Ofgem has delayed or postponed a range of activities that it considers less time-critical in the short-term to consumer protection and security of supply. The regulator is also prioritising the delivery of its statutory obligations. Canada’s energy regulator (CER) has taken measures that advance two key principles: adjustments to programme activities which will reduce administrative burden on regulated entities and impacted persons in the short term (90 days) and adjustments to programme plans and processes in order to contribute to Canada’s economic recovery and the energy sector’s global competitiveness in the medium term (3-6 months).

With regard to the governance of decision-making by regulatory authorities, agencies have continued to issue decisions via statutory mechanisms such as the board of directors or equivalent. In some cases, like France’s ART, the regulator is allowed to transfer certain competences from the internal deliberative bodies to the executive positions by express government authorisation.

Across jurisdictions, regulators have also created specific internal COVID-19 task forces to support evidence-based decision-making in the on-going emergency context. This has been the case, for example, in Brazil’s Agência Nacional de Transportes Terrestres (ANTT) and Finland’s Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom), allowing for a more focused approach to the COVID-19 measures, whilst allowing other internal resource to deal with other more business-as-usual matters. Similarly, multi-sector regulators, like Italy’s ARERA, have established internal task forces to gain deeper understanding of COVID-19 implications for each regulated sector, sometimes with board members or senior decision-makers substantially involved in leading these.

Using digital tools to stay effective

By April 2019, most countries had implemented some form of movement restriction or social distancing measures (WHO, 2020[12]). Many workplaces – including those of regulators – have transitioned to working remotely, whether fully or in part. In some cases, regulators have operated under limited capacity even at a time of increased workload due to requests from consumers, operators, as well as the development of crisis-countering policies. In addition, regulators with supervision and enforcement competencies had to develop smart-working tools and make full use of technology and data analysis tools to ensure that market integrity is maintained and market abuses are limited even in the absence of inspections or on-site monitoring. The use of new and emerging technologies is, in many countries, at the forefront of measures designed to directly combat the spread of COVID-19 (for instance, track and trace mobile apps in South Korea, Germany or United Kingdom) (OECD, WB, 2020[13]). Economic regulators will have the challenge to harness these insights and apply them to the sectors that they regulate.

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Looking ahead

Since the beginning of the health crisis, regulated markets and their regulatory governance have shown a high degree of resilience. The next significant challenge will be to carry this resilience over to the long-term and to adapt to a new future. While there is still great uncertainty on the nature of this future, societies and economies will likely be reshaped in the longer term. In the regulated network sectors, this translates into a lasting impact on usage and demand for network services. These changes and the nature of government responses can have fundamental and long-lasting effects on the market structure and performance, such as operators’ ability to earn back investments and work at efficient levels. The level of competition in the market may change on a permanent basis and parties may reprioritise their long-term investments. In this context, public institutions will be called on to take part in a collaborative effort to formulate an exit strategy as well as a vision for the future. Regulators will form part of this effort but may, at the same time, be required to shift to respond to new needs and market characteristics, such as supporting the prioritisation of low-carbon investments and balancing efficiency and resilience in post-crisis sectors.

How to define an exit strategy?

How and when to define an exit strategy are fundamental but inherently difficult questions. Across countries and sectors, governments and regulators have implemented emergency measures to support market actors manage the consequences of the pandemic. These measures, such as those described in this brief, can have strong medium- or long-term impacts on the operations of the market. In phasing out emergency measures or easements, regulators may be called on to co-operate with the government and other stakeholders. Through data collection and interactions with stakeholders, regulators hold key insights into the functioning of markets and regulations, which can support decision-making. In shaping an exit strategy, regulators will need to ensure maximum transparency in decision-making and enable scrutiny of their actions, as well as make sure emergency measures are not maintained longer than necessary. By doing so, regulators will stay predictable and accountable, and can bring confidence to market actors in a time of need.

The phasing out of measures will differ per country and sector, and will depend on the exact nature of the measures in place and on the market conditions. In some cases, initiatives are by design time-bound, helping market actors to form their expectations and plan for the future. Clear communications on criteria for decision-making and new dispositions can bring clarity to market actors, enabling a smoother transition.

How will the pandemic affect market structures?

A major concern for economic regulators is how the drop in demand will impact operators and ultimately, market structure. Although the depth of this effect differs between sectors, all sectors have faced shifts in consumption patterns and levels. For example, in transport sectors, restrictions on movement, remote working and social distancing have caused a strong decrease in the demand for transport: daily flights experienced a drop of 80% worldwide due to COVID-19 related restrictions (late April compared to early January 2020) (ITF, 2020[4]). In the energy sectors, demand has decreased in line with halted production or lower business activity, with data in mid-April 2020 showing an average decline in energy demand per week between 18% and 25%, depending on the severity of lockdown measures (IEA, 2020[3]). In France in March 2020, the Commission de regulation de l’énergie (CRE), the energy regulator, reported a 15% decrease in electricity consumption on average compared to the level usually seen in March. On the other hand, the electronic communications sector has experienced a surge in demand (BEREC, 2020[14]), with internet exchange points experiencing 60% more traffic than before the outbreak (OECD, 2020[2]). Especially in cases where demand falls significantly compared to pre-crisis levels, business continuity and competition could be at risk.

When demand decreases, operators see a drop in their revenues, affecting their financial viability. When revenues drop sharply, while fixed costs do not move along, company cash flows will be limited. Measures to delay consumer payments may further increase this issue for operators. In extreme cases, the drop in revenues could lead to the bankruptcy of companies. In other cases, the drop in demand may prevent potential new competitors from entering the market. Both situations may harm competitive pressure in the market in the short-run, and are likely to have long-lasting effects on market structures in case demand does not return to pre-crisis levels. This may affect market outcomes for the final consumers, making more challenging to ensure access to affordable services of high quality.

A more active role of the state in the market in response to the crisis may also affect market structures in sectors that had been previously fully liberalised. As a crisis-response tool, governments are considering taking equity stakes in distressed firms. The COVID-19 pandemic may, therefore, result in increased state ownership or control of enterprises (OECD, 2020[15]). More broadly, state aid (including other forms such as loans and loan guarantees) to companies can distort competition as government involvement in sectors alters the competitive position of the company that receives state aid relative to its competitors (OECD, 2020[16]). The IRG rail, a group of 31 rail regulators in Europe, stressed the importance of “a balance between emergency measures and the need to safeguard fair competition in rail markets as well as a level playing field across transport modes” when implementing bailouts and other forms of state aid (IRG Rail, 2020[17]). In a similar way, government involvement may affect intermodal competition between alternative services. For example, when governments provide state aid to one mode of transport, such as air travel, but do not support rail operators, this could shift demand between sectors.

As soon as market conditions permit, a government may decide to relinquish its stake in a firm. Carefully designed exit strategies can help minimise the cost of government intervention for the taxpayer. Such strategies will need to rely on sound independent advice in order to ensure accurate valuations of investments and divestments (OECD, 2020[15]). Economic regulators could have an important role to play in this regard given the knowledge and data that they hold and their experience in providing evidence-based, impartial advice to support objective decision-making by the executive.

On the other hand, the disruption of the crisis, in particular in hard-hit sector such as transport, and the post-crisis recovery offer opportunities to build back better, for example aligning support measures with climate objectives.

How to ensure sufficient investments?

The crisis adds uncertainty to infrastructure planning and has impacted capacity of both public and private actors to mobilise resources for future investment, at a time when the effects of climate change already placed stress on the resilience of infrastructure networks. For example, the IEA estimates that energy investment is set to fall by one fifth in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic (IEA, 2020[19]). Like any crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic creates significant volatility and increased uncertainties on the global financial markets. This can, in turn, negatively affect valuations and credit ratings of operators in certain sectors, and impact the availability and cost of capital. In the aftermath of unprecedented stimulus packages (for example, an estimated USD 2.3 trillion - around 11% of GDP - in the United States of America or EUR 110 billion – nearly 5% of GDP – in France (IMF, 2020[20]), fiscal space for public investment in infrastructure may be undermined.

Investment may be affected in a number of ways. When the crisis affects companies’ cash flows, such as through low demand for services or more medium-term pressure to keep utility prices low for customers, this may limit their ability to invest in their networks. Companies as well as policy makers may need to reprioritise their investment needs, and will re-evaluate budgets. Moreover, even in situations when companies have the financial means to invest in the infrastructure, they may choose not to do so due to a more uncertain environment or revised expectations of future demand for services.

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis will need to be assessed by regulators and policy makers as it may have further significant medium- and long-term impacts on the resilience of networks and their ability to remain reliable and provide high quality services. By providing guidance, and showing integrity in adhering to long-term goals, regulators may be able to increase confidence of operators and potential investors. The post-crisis recovery can also be an opportunity for promoting investment in low-carbon infrastructure and innovation in the utility sectors.

Regulators can provide crucial information to support these efforts by monitoring the economic consequences and risks to strategic investments in regulated sectors. In France for example, the National Assembly requested the French transport regulator (Autorité de Régulation des Transports – ART) to evaluate the issues faced by the railway, road and airport sectors, to inform government actions on the impact of the pandemic. To do so, ART is collecting and intends to publish data on the interruption of rail infrastructure management, renewal projects and related costs.

How will the role of economic regulators evolve?

The continued functioning of markets and the increased co-ordination between actors during the pandemic have highlighted the relevance of economic regulators and their role in the economy. Traditionally, regulators balance competing priorities, such as consumer protection, competition and market integrity and efficiency; the emergency context has compelled them to rebalance these priorities. In the short term, many focused their actions towards consumer protection and ensuring that businesses continue to operate, sometimes to the detriment of other objectives, in line with government policy and the emergency context. By doing so, regulators de facto expanded their role and entered a new era of closer collaboration with the government. In the longer term, regulators may be called on to contribute to national programmes of economic recovery, and enhance the global competitiveness of their national economies beyond their traditional pre-crisis mandates.

Going forward, markets will continue to be transformed by the economic, social and behavioural effects of the crisis and related government measures. In this context, economic regulators can provide in-depth data, objective advice and technical decision-making regarding the efficiency and resilience of new economic/market models.

Independent economic regulators exist for the purposes of “impartial, objective and evidence-based decisions that will inspire trust in public institutions and encourage investment” (OECD, 2017[21]). The prioritisation of regulatory activities during the crisis has been led by governments in response to the sanitary state of emergency. Regulators have also adjusted certain regulatory practices, by introducing regulatory easements or reducing the scope of ex-ante analysis or stakeholder engagement, as seen in this brief. As emergency decision-making is phased out, regulators will need to re-instate robust, transparent and accountable mechanisms and assess whether regulatory frameworks need to be adjusted or can be returned to pre-crisis assumptions. This period may present a “pinch-point” for the independence of the regulator, as market players are reeling from the effects of the crisis, and as the government is playing a more active role in markets through stimulus packages or targeted interventions in support of specific market actors. While the division of roles between the regulator, the executive and other stakeholders may have been clear before the crisis, role clarity may decrease in this period. In this context, regulators will need to openly communicate their recommendations with regard to safeguarding consumer interests and the integrity of the market on a clear evidence-base, contributing to a predictable and transparent vision for the sectors that they regulate.

Some regulators may also feel the pressure of the crisis on their funding model. The crisis clearly highlights that when a regulator is funded solely through fees paid by industry, while it may be free of government interference in its finances, changes in the market directly affect the regulator’s funding and may undermine its capacity to deliver on objectives. For instance, the Civil Aviation Authority in the United Kingdom deferred any increases to its charges to operators until 1 July 2020, in an effort to support the industry (CAA, 2020[22]). However, decreases in the regulator’s funding can ultimately also affect its ability to fulfil its objectives, and this trend will require close monitoring and agile reactions by the regulator on its operations and eventual changes to its funding model.

Finally, the resilience and adaptability of regulators to the formidable challenges posed by the pandemic should be seized as a learning experience and opportunity. While it is important to be transparent and use predictable criteria for phasing out of the emergency, it is worth recognising that regulators have, through a suite of measures, successfully adapted to new needs in record time. Agencies have devised new ways of working with stakeholders, making decisions, working remotely, and at the same time, have implemented emergency measures designed to keep markets functioning and customers and operators above water. The crisis may well have been one of the biggest live experiments in innovative and agile regulatory governance. Moving away from the crisis, regulators should assess the success of the different techniques that were used and the results of emergency measures that were rolled out. Sharing experiences will provide insights into best practices during crisis periods, which could help governments and regulators face future challenges. Finally, these innovative methods and agility can inspire ways to increase the efficiency of the regulator under normal market conditions.

References

[14] BEREC (2020), Press release - Updated BEREC report on the status of internet capacity in light of Covid-19 crisis, https://berec.europa.eu/eng/document_register/subject_matter/berec/press_releases/9247-press-release-updated-berec-report-on-the-status-of-internet-capacity-in-light-of-covid-19-crisis (accessed on 12 May 2020).

[11] BEREC (2020), Summary Report on the status of internet capacity, regulatory and other measures in light of the Covid-19 crisis, BoR(20)119, 4 June 2020, https://berec.europa.eu/eng/document_register/subject_matter/berec/reports/9268-berec-summary-report-on-the-status-of-internet-capacity-regulatory-and-other-measures-in-light-of-the-covid-19-crisis.

[1] BEREC, E. (2020), Joint Statement from the Commission and the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) on coping with the increased demand for network connectivity due to the Covid-19 pandemic, https://berec.europa.eu/eng/document_register/subject_matter/berec/others/9236-joint-statement-from-the-commission-and-the-body-of-european-regulators-for-electronic-communications-berec-on-coping-with-the-increased-demand-for-network-connectivity-due-to-.

[18] Bloomberg (2020), Air France-KLM Wins EU Approval for $7.7 Billion Bailout, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-04/air-france-wins-eu-approval-for-eu7b-french-guarantee-and-loan (accessed on 27 May 2020).

[22] CAA (2020), IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT 2020/21 CHARGES, https://publicapps.caa.co.uk/docs/33/359W%20AOWaiverDoc.pdf (accessed on 18 May 2020).

[6] Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia (2020), COVID-19 Denuncias y consultas relacionadas con la aplicación de las normas de competencia, https://www.cnmc.es/prensa/buzon-covid19-pautas-20200424 (accessed on 12 May 2020).

[9] FCA (2020), https://www.fca.org.uk/news/press-releases/fca-proposes-temporary-financial-relief-customers-impacted-coronavirus.

[10] FCA (2020), https://www.fca.org.uk/news/press-releases/new-guidance-mortgage-providers-lenders-coronavirus.

[3] IEA (2020), Global Energy Review 2020, https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020.

[19] IEA (2020), World Energy Investment 2020, https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-investment-2020.

[20] IMF (2020), POlicy Responses to COVID-19, https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19#S.

[17] IRG Rail (2020), European rail regulators contribute to the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, https://www.irg-rail.eu/irg/news/press-release/264,European-rail-regulators-contribute-to-the-recovery-from-the-COVID-19-crisis.html (accessed on 27 May 2020).

[4] ITF (2020), COVID-19 Transport Brief: Restoring air connectivity under policies to mitigate climate change, https://www.itf-oecd.org/sites/default/files/air-connectivity-covid-19.pdf.

[8] Légifrance (2020), “Ordonnance n° 2020-306 du 25 mars 2020 relative à la prorogation des délais échus pendant la période d’urgence sanitaire et à l’adaptation des procédures pendant cette même période” [Ordinance n° 2020-306 of March 25, 2020 relating to the extension of ex, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000041755644 (accessed on 4 June 2020).

[7] OECD (2020), Corporate sector vulnerabilities during the Covid-19 outbreak: Assessment and policy responses, http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/corporate-sector-vulnerabilities-during-the-covid-19-outbreak-assessment-and-policy-responses-a6e670ea/.

[2] OECD (2020), Keeping the Internet up and running in times of crisis, http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/keeping-the-internet-up-and-running-in-times-of-crisis-4017c4c9/.

[16] OECD (2020), Supporting business in financial distress to avoid insolvency during the COVID-19 crisis, http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/supporting-businesses-in-financial-distress-to-avoid-insolvency-during-thecovid-19-crisis-b4154a8b/.

[15] OECD (2020), The COVID-19 crisis and state ownership in the economy: Issues and policy considerations, https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/view/?ref=134_134629-poiy72eujv&title=The-COVID-19-crisis-and-state-ownership-in-the-economy-Issues-and-policy-considerations.

[5] OECD (2019), Indicators on the Governance of Sector Regulators (database), http://www.oecd.org/gov/regulatory-policy/governance-indicators.htm (accessed on 18 May 2020).

[21] OECD (2017), Creating a Culture of Independence: Practical Guidance against Undue Influence, The Governance of Regulators, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264274198-en.

[23] OECD (2014), The Governance of Regulators, OECD Best Practice Principles for Regulatory Policy, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264209015-en.

[13] OECD, WB (2020), https://blogs.worldbank.org/psd/technology-helps-strengthen-countries-regulatory-capacity-respond-covid-19.

[12] WHO (2020), https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/covid-strategy-update-14april2020.pdf?sfvrsn=29da3ba0_19.

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Annex A. Responses to the COVID-19 crisis, by authority

Abstract

The purpose of this annex is to share practices and measures adopted by regulators in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The annex was compiled from submissions to the Secretariat of the Network of Economic Regulators, presentations during NER webinars and desk research. Examples reflect measures as at end May 2020 and have been reviewed by the respective authorities.

Australia, multisector: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

During the crisis, ACCC’s priority is maintaining competitive markets by ensuring changes in the competitive landscape are temporary and supporting competition during economic recovery. The 2020 Compliance and Enforcement Priorities that guide ACCC’s work are still in place, but ACCC is prioritising those most relevant to competition and consumer issues arising from the pandemic.

ACCC is focusing on addressing exploitative business behaviour during the pandemic, prioritizing activities to counter price gouging for essential products. ACCC’s consumer support actions include raising awareness of COVID-19 scams. ACCC is paying special attention to affordability issues, monitoring for excessive pricing. In addition, ACCC established a COVID taskforce to educate industry about obligations related to cancellations, refunds and suspension of services. ACCC will continue to engage with governments and businesses about authorisations that could be considered anti-competitive during normal times but may be within the public interest during the crisis.

ACCC is trying to minimise the regulatory burden on industry by introducing flexibility in enforcement activities. It is taking into account the impact on businesses when it decides on the scope and timing of requests for information and documents. It is restricting compulsory examinations and conducting necessary examinations remotely. ACCC may consider regulatory exemptions in infrastructure sectors if current obligations are too burdensome in light of the crisis. ACCC is deferring where possible public inquiries about new regulation. ACCC will still evaluate proposed mergers; some may be conducted on an urgent basis and others may have extended timelines. ACCC has issued interim authorisations for co-operation where these offer public benefit and address problems faced by industry participants, weighing the public benefits against risks including potential impacts to the competitive dynamics of the industry. The regulator has stressed the time-bound nature of the measures it is taking in response to COVID-19, stating that it wants to ensure any changes to the competitive landscape now are temporary.

Additional references

ACCC (2020), ACCC response to COVID-19 pandemic,

https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/accc-response-to-covid-19-pandemic.

ACCC (2020), Authorisations, https://www.accc.gov.au/topics/authorisations.

Australia, energy: Australian Energy Regulator (AER)

AER issued a statement of expectations for energy businesses to protect consumers and the energy market during the crisis. Some of the expectations address payment and affordability issues. Energy businesses are expected to offer payment plans or hardship agreements to any residential and small business customers that may be in financial stress. AER asks suppliers to modify existing payment plans if necessary due to a customer’s changed circumstances and states businesses should suspend referrals of customers to debt collection agencies through 31 July. In addition, AER has expressed a clear expectation that no residential or small business customers in financial stress are disconnected without their agreement through at least 31 July 2020. It expects the same for large business customers that on-sell energy to residential or small business customers. Suppliers should waive fees for disconnections, reconnections and breaking contract for small business customers with suspended operations as well as daily supply charges for retailers.

The statement of expectations also addresses consumer support and information. According to the statement, businesses should keep websites, social media and call centre messages up-to-date with clear messages about the issues addressed in the statement. Businesses are expected to communicate clearly with customers about the availability of support

Other expectations in the statement relate to security of supply. Businesses are expected to ensure that supply to customers who require life support equipment is prioritised. In addition, they must minimise the frequency and duration of planned outages and precede outages with as much notice as possible.

Additional reference

AER (2020), AER Statement of Expectations of energy businesses: Protecting consumers and the energy market during COVID-19, https://www.aer.gov.au/publications/corporate-documents/aer-statement-of-expectations-of-energy-businesses-protecting-consumers-and-the-energy-market-during-covid-19.

Brazil, e-communications: National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel)

The Brazilian National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel), within the scope of its mandate, and aware that the telecommunications sector is essential for Brazil to get through the current crisis in the best possible way, established a Crisis Committee.

In this context, Anatel and the main companies, associations of small and large broadband providers also signed a Public Commitment Agreement for keeping the country connected (Manter o Brasil Conectado) with measures to guarantee the access to and quality of telecommunications services. The following guidelines were defined:

Telecommunication services will continue to function

Action plans for maintaining services will be adopted considering the change in the usage profile. Measures that allow for technical, administrative and service teams to continue to perform their functions safely for the health of all will also be adopted;

Health and public security services will have special support

Operators will give priority to bodies that provide services of public utility and will assign the phone number 196 to the Ministry of Health for actions dealing with the pandemic;

Consumer difficulties will be addressed

Operators will adjust the mechanisms for payment of bills, providing alternative means for the population, even in social isolation, to continue to access telecommunication services. Special attention will be paid to consumers who use prepaid credits;

The population will be well informed 

Operators will send alerts and information messages to the population as requested by the competent authorities. Free access to the Coronavirus application, developed by the Ministry of Health, will be guaranteed. The Crisis Committee will monitor the implementation of the signed commitment and consider additional measures that may be necessary. In addition, Anatel will continuously monitor traffic and capacity of the telecommunication networks, articulating these efforts with stakeholders, including internet content providers. Emergency solutions that have as a main objective the continuity of the service and its access by the Brazilian population will be prioritised.

The initiatives can be accessed on a specific webpage on the Agency's portal and the regulator has also consistently provided information and updates to consumers through social media.

Furthermore, some telecommunication operators have provided free access to government applications (zero rating) for access to information, news and public utility. Some operators have also increased the amount of broadband, free of charge, for their customers to serve the population and, mainly, improve the connection to teleworking.

Examples of Zero Rating during the pandemic include:

A) The Ministry of Health launched the Coronavirus-SUS app aiming to make the population aware of the Corona Virus COVID-19. The application provides information on various topics such as symptoms, how to prevent the spread of the virus, what to do in case of suspected infection, as well as a map of nearby health units.

B) Caixa App: (Caixa Econômica Federal is a Government Bank) - Emergency Aid is a financial support programme for informal workers, the self-employed and unemployed, and its purpose is to provide emergency protection in the period of coping with the crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic – COVID 19.

Additional reference:

Anatel (2020), Ações da Anatel e do setor de telecomunicações no combate ao coronavirus [Actions of Anatel and the telecommunications sector in the fight against coronavirus] , https://www.anatel.gov.br/institucional/mais-noticias/2541-acoes-do-setor-de-telecomunicacoes-no-combate-ao-coronavirus (accessed 27 July 2020)

Brazil, energy: Agência Nacional de Energia Elétrica (ANEEL)

In response to the crisis, ANEEL interacted with stakeholders such as the Ministry and the electricity sector, to analyse the effects of the pandemic. The pandemic caused lower levels of consumption and increases in unpaid bills, which meant revenues for distribution companies fell and insolvency risk increased. ANEEL cooperated together with the executive to ensure the delivery of electricity and the sustainability of the sector during the crisis and after it. This resulted in the following response:

  • The Treasury paid the electricity bills of nine million of the most vulnerable households for April to June.

  • An executive order provided legal authorisation for distribution companies to take out loans from private banks with a future tariff coverage guarantee. ANEEL is working with the Ministry in defining rules for the loan, defining regulatory assets as guarantees and negotiating bank fees.

The regulator took a number of additional measures, in order to protect consumers and ensure service continuity and liquidity for electricity distribution companies’ cash flow. This included a temporary prohibition for distribution companies to cut the electricity supply and a relaxation in rules regarding metering and billing (no on-site measurement). ANEEL also relaxed a number of service and compliance requirements, including the requirement for distribution companies to pay compensation when it failed to deliver the required service quality standards. To alleviate the electricity distribution companies’ sharp drop in revenue, ANEEL postponed the application of tariff increases and advanced financial resources that were in sector accounts which would be allocated to companies throughout the year.

To protect its own workers, ANEEL moved to teleworking for majority of staff, keeping only a small number of employees at the office.

Additional reference:

Government of Brazil (2020), “Medida Provisório Nº 950, de 8 de Abril De 2020” [Provisional Measure No. 950, of April 8, 2020], http://www.planalto.gov.br/ccivil_03/_ato2019-2022/2020/Mpv/mpv950.htm (accessed 4 June 2020).

Brazil, transport: Agência Nacional de Transportes Terrestres (ANTT)

ANTT introduced a wide range of measures, aimed at enhancing operators’ compliance with government-imposed sanitary measures and at improving the protection of passengers, of the operators’ employees and of its own staff. As such, for a period of 60 days:

  • Strict cleaning measures need to be implemented by operators od road transport;

  • Suspend enforcement action against operators for cancellation of routes, ticket suspension and service interruption;

  • Charter services and passenger transport at the borders was suspended;

In addition, the maximum weight limits for cargo trucks was suspended for 90 days on federal roads in order to facilitate the supply chain in the country. Complementarily, traffic flow restrictions at major bridges have been lifted for this period.

In terms of administrative and enforcement proceedings, ANTT has suspended administrative processes deadlines and has given an additional time for regulated companies to comply with contract obligations. Dispute resolution in relation to fines applied to operators have also been temporarily suspended.

Additional references:

ANTT Legis (2020), Ministry of Infrastructure, National Land Transportation Agency, “Resolução nº 5.878, de 26 de março de 2020" [Resolution No. 5 878 of 26 March 2020], https://anttlegis.antt.gov.br/action/UrlPublicasAction.php?acao=abrirAtoPublico&sgl_tipo=RES&num_ato=00005878&seq_ato=000&vlr_ano=2020&sgl_orgao=DG/ANTT/MI&cod_modulo=161&cod_menu=6616 (accessed 4 June 2020).

ANTT Legis (2020), Ministry of Infrastructure, National Land Transportation Agency, “Resolução nº 5.879, de 26 de março de 2020” [Resolution No. 5 879 of 26 March 2020], https://anttlegis.antt.gov.br/action/urlpublicasaction.php?acao=abriratopublico&cod_modulo=161&cod_menu=6616&num_ato=00005879&sgl_tipo=res&sgl_orgao=dg/antt/mi&vlr_ano=2020&seq_ato=000 (accessed 4 June 2020).

ANTT Legis (2020), Ministry of Infrastructure, National Land Transportation Agency, “Portaria nº 117, de 25 de março de 2020”, [Ordinance No. 117 of 25 March 2020], https://anttlegis.antt.gov.br/action/urlpublicasaction.php?acao=abriratopublico&cod_modulo=161&cod_menu=5411&num_ato=00000117&sgl_tipo=por&sgl_orgao=dg/antt/mi&vlr_ano=2020&seq_ato=000 (accessed 4 June 2020).

ANTT Legis (2020), Ministry of Infrastructure, National Land Transportation Agency, Collegiate Board, “Resolução nº 5.880, de 31 de março de 2020” [Resolution No. 5 880 of 31 March 2020], https://anttlegis.antt.gov.br/action/UrlPublicasAction.php?acao=abrirAtoPublico&cod_modulo=161&cod_menu=6616&num_ato=00005880&sgl_tipo=RES&sgl_orgao=DG/ANTT/MI&vlr_ano=2020&seq_ato=000 (accessed 4 June 2020).

ANTT Legis (2020), Ministry of Infrastructure, National Land Transportation Agency, “Resolução nº 5 875, de 17 de março de 2020” [Resolution No. 5 875 of 17 March 2020], https://anttlegis.antt.gov.br/action/urlpublicasaction.php?acao=abriratopublico&cod_modulo=161&cod_menu=5411&num_ato=00005875&sgl_tipo=res&sgl_orgao=dg/antt/mi&vlr_ano=2020&seq_ato=000 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Canada, energy: Canada Energy Regulator (CER)

In recognition of the ongoing public health crisis and economic disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) has adapted the way it works and identified opportunities for flexibility in developing, applying and enforcing regulations. These actions respond to the current reality in which the COVID-19 pandemic may temporarily affect the ability of regulated entities and impacted persons to participate in CER activities, respond to requests, and/or comply with all regulatory requirements. They demonstrate administrative flexibility while aiming to not compromise the regulator’s safety and environmental protection mandate. Although these actions are part of a broader government wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CER is only advancing administrative flexibility actions that are within its own jurisdiction at this time.

On 16 March 2020 the CER sent an initial letter to regulated entities and impacted persons which outlined immediate actions the regulator was taking in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily precautionary measures and business continuity plans. On 29 April 2020, following further analysis and engagement with stakeholders, the CER released a second letter outlining additional response measures which would support administrative flexibility during the COVID-19 period.

Actions Supporting Administrative Flexibility as of 29 April 2020:

  • Inspections and compliance verification activities will take place with extra precautions to keep people safe, or using technology to further reduce close personal interactions.

  • Financial audits that haven’t already started will be postponed.

  • Management system audits unrelated to ongoing construction activities or emergency response and that haven’t already been started, will be postponed.

  • Corrective Action Plan filings arising from completed audits, where there is no direct impact on protection of people and the environment, will be assessed for timing extension upon request.

  • External engagement for all regulatory framework improvement initiatives will be deferred.

Adjudicative processes

During the COVID-19 period the CER continues to receive applications for Commission decisions, each of which are considered on a case-by-case basis by the Commission in its role as an independent decision-maker. Regulated entities have the ability to apply to the Commission for exemptions or changes to conditions of existing approvals and other regulatory requirements. These requests are assessed by the Commission through transparent processes as provided for in the Canadian Energy Regulator Act. The Commission continues to look for ways to optimize hearing participant involvement in all current adjudication processes to ensure the processes continue in a manner that is fair and transparent. Procedural guidance outlining COVID-19 specific adjustments has been issued for specific adjudicative processes and a broader communication was released on 12 May 2020.

In addition to these communications which outline the regulator’s overall COVID-19 response, the organization has also shared frequent updates on specific aspects of its work as required. The CER continues to look for ways to assist the communities, individuals and companies impacted by its work and is committed to assessing the effectiveness and necessity of the temporary measures as the pandemic situation evolves. The organization will continue to monitor its performance through its Departmental Results Framework (DRF). The DRF outlines the desired outcome and departmental results for each core responsibility area, performance is then measured with set indicators.

References:

Canada Energy Regulator (2020), Canada Energy Regulator’s precautionary measures and business continuity plans related to COVID-19, Letter, 16 March 2020, http://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/bts/nws/whtnw/2020/2020-03-16-eng.html.

Canada Energy Regulator (2020), Canada Energy Regulator Actions Supporting Administrative Flexibility during COVID-19, Letter, 29 April 2020, http://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/bts/nws/whtnw/2020/2020-04-29-eng.html.

Canada Energy Regulator (2020), The CER’s Adjudicative Processes during COVID-19, Update, 12 May 2020, https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/bts/cvd19/covid19-eng.html.

Canada, transport: Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA)

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has continued to deliver all its services through staff working remotely. It engages with stakeholders, communicates with the media and public, and provides updates on COVID-19 measures through its websites – including a webpage dedicated to providing COVID-19 information for travellers – as well as social network platforms and other electronic means.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on air transportation – such as significant travel restrictions and the mass cancellation of passenger flights – the CTA implemented a number of measures to allow air carriers to focus on immediate and urgent operational demands. These measures also sought to improve the odds that consumer choice and diverse service offerings will remain in Canada's air transportation sector over the longer term. They included:

  • Temporary adjustments, until June 30, 2020, to certain obligations under the Canada Transportation Act and the Air Passenger Protection Regulations. For instance, air carriers were exempted from having to provide advance notice when temporarily reducing or suspending services on certain domestic routes. Requirements to pay passengers compensation for inconvenience for flight delays and cancellations within an air carrier's control were also modified – allowing air carriers to notify passengers of a delay or cancellation up to 72 hours (rather than 14 days) before the scheduled flight without having to pay compensation for inconvenience, and adjusting the amounts and length of delays for which compensation would be required. These modifications were made to provide air carriers with increased flexibility to adjust flight schedules without facing prohibitive costs.

  • A temporary pause in interactions with carriers in dispute resolution activities (facilitation, mediation, and adjudication) involving air carriers also until 30 June, 2020. However, passengers can continue to file complaints with the CTA.

  • A non-binding statement indicating that the issuance of vouchers to passengers affected by flight cancellations could be a reasonable approach in the context of the COVID-related global collapse of air travel, when flights are cancelled for reasons outside air carriers' control, passengers have no prospect of completing their itineraries, and there is no legislated minimum obligation for air carriers to provide cash refunds.

The CTA is also considering targeted delays in the effective date of certain provisions of the new Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations – which come into force on June 25, 2020 – if immediate compliance with those provisions would require the investment of substantial effort and resources.

Additional references:

Canadian Transportation Agency (2020), “Important Information for Travellers During COVID-19”, https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/important-information-travellers-during-covid-19 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Canadian Transportation Agency (2020), “Determination No. A-2020-42”, https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/ruling/a-2020-42 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Canadian Transportation Agency (2020), “Determination No. A-2020-47”, https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/ruling/a-2020-47 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Canadian Transportation Agency (2020), “Order No. 2020-A-37”, https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/ruling/2020-a-37 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Canadian Transportation Agency (2020), “Order No. 2020-A-36”, https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/ruling/2020-a-36 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Canadian Transportation Agency (2020), “Statement on Vouchers”, https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/statement-vouchers (accessed 4 June 2020).

France, transport : Autorité de Régulation des Transports (ART)

In response to the pandemic, a number of actions have been undertaken by the French transport regulator, Autorité de régulation des transports (ART), sometimes in coordination with the French government.

To ensure essential products (such as food and health products) to be transported swiftly, in France the processes of path allocation in the rail network give priority to freight trains. The ART has acted as a facilitator between the infrastructure manager and the railway undertakings to help ensuring the implementation of this prioritisation. While the decrease in passenger traffic further facilitated this process, the ART monitors that the implementation takes place without discriminating between different freight undertakings. Furthermore, following a suspension of the performance regime and incentive schemes which was requested by the rail operators, the ART will ensure no penalties will be charged when operators cancel train paths.

The ART took immediate action to be able to provide decision-makers with robust and up-to-date data on the situation in the transport sector. The ART collects and intends to display data on the interruption of maintenance and renewal projects, and their costs. At the request of the National Assembly, it evaluates the issues faced by the transport sectors, which will inform government actions in the sectors on the impact of the outbreak.

The French government also authorised the ART, like all public institutions, to transfer some competencies of the internal deliberative bodies to the executive positions, if this is justified by the situation. This authorisation however does not apply to the sanctioning powers.

Additional references

Légifrance (2020), “Loi n° 2020-290 du 23 mars 2020 d'urgence pour faire face à l'épidémie de covid-19 (1)” [Law n° 2020-290 of 23 March 2020 urgent to deal with the covid-19 epidemic (1)], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000041746313&categorieLien=id (accessed 4 June 2020).

Légifrance (2020), “Ordonnance n° 2020-306 du 25 mars 2020 relative à la prorogation des délais échus pendant la période d'urgence sanitaire et à l'adaptation des procédures pendant cette même période” [Ordinance n° 2020-306 of March 25, 2020 relating to the extension of expired deadlines during the health emergency period and the adaptation of procedures during this same period], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000041755644 (accessed 4 June 2020).

France, energy: Commission de Régulation de l'Energie (CRE)

General context:

The health crisis and the containment measures implemented to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic led to a drop in electricity consumption in France of around 15% on average compared to the level usually seen in March and a sharp fall in electricity prices on the wholesale markets: the commodity price for the 2nd quarter of 2020 was EUR 21/MWh as at 26 March 2020. 

This affects all electricity suppliers, both historical and alternative, in several ways. On the one hand, suppliers are experiencing a drop in their turnover due to the drop in consumption, which is particularly strong for industrial and tertiary customers. On the other hand, suppliers have generally already purchased, at a price agreed in advance, the quantities of electricity needed to supply their customers. They therefore find themselves with a surplus of electricity, which they have to sell on the market at a price well below the price at which they bought it.

CRE has taken steps to take into account the effects of the crisis in its deliberation No. 2020-071 of 26 March 2020 on communication on measures in favour of suppliers taking into account the effects of the health crisis on the electricity and natural gas markets.

CRE measures:

  1. 1. Billing of gas and electricity supply : in accordance with the emergency law of 23 March 2020 to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic, CRE has expressly asked network operators to apply, to suppliers or shippers requesting, to defer in full or staggering the payment of rents, water, gas and electricity bills relating to professional and commercial premises and waiving the financial penalties and the suspensions, interruptions or reductions in supplies that may be applied in the event of non-payment of these bills, to the benefit of microenterprises. This text also postpones the end of the winter truce to 31 May 2020.

  2. 2. Exceptional circumstances have led CRE to mitigate the system of regulated access to historic nuclear electricity (ARENH). CRE allows suppliers, upon request, to know the precise criteria that will allow them to benefit from certain adjustments to their ARENH payments in application of the deliberation of the CRE No. 2020-071.

  3. 3. CRE will consider any electricity supplier to be small and in a situation of fragility having been notified at the end of the ARENH counter of November 2019 a volume of ARENH strictly inferior to 125 MW and producing a certificate of honour that the current health crisis threatens the sustainability of its activity.

These measures will benefit mainly energy suppliers and retails services; network operator are also concerned.

The role of CRE in taking these measures is:

  • To ensure safe and reliable energy supply of grids operators

  • To ensure the continuity of grids operators' services internally (organization, rotating team, etc.)

  • To foster the protection of competitive conditions on the retail market (avoid opportunist behaviours)

The underlying criteria or principles guiding the decisions are:

  • Ensuring the security and quality of energy supply without penalising market players

  • Protecting national market players while ensuring market competition

To ensure the system resilience and adopt measures to protect customers CRE is committed to pursuing the regulator's key missions and to monitor regulated operators and market players.

Additional references:

CRE (2020), « Délibération de la CRE du 26 mars 2020 portant communication sur les mesures en faveur des fournisseurs prenant en compte des effets de la crise sanitaire sur les marchés d’électricité et de gaz naturel » [Deliberation by CRE of 26 March 2020 on communication on measures in favour of suppliers taking into account the effects of the health crisis on the electricity and natural gas markets], https://www.cre.fr/Documents/Deliberations/Communication/mesures-en-faveur-des-fournisseurs-prenant-en-compte-des-effets-de-la-crise-sanitaire-sur-les-marches-d-electricite-et-de-gaz-naturel (accessed 4 June 2020).

CRE (2020), “Délibération de la CRE du 9 avril 2020 portant communication sur les modalités d'application des facilités de paiement des factures ARENH en faveur des fournisseurs prenant en compte les effets de la crise sanitaire sur les marchés de l’électricité" [Deliberation by CRE of 9 April 2020 communicating the implementing rules for the ARENH invoice payment facilities in favour of the suppliers taking into account the effects of the health crisis on electricity markets], https://www.cre.fr/Documents/Deliberations/Communication/modalites-d-application-des-facilites-de-paiement-des-factures-arenh-en-faveur-des-fournisseurs-prenant-en-compte-les-effets-de-la-crise-sanitaire (accessed 4 June 2020).

Légifrance (2020), « Ordonnance n° 2020-316 du 25 mars 2020 relative au paiement des loyers, des factures d'eau, de gaz et d'électricité afférents aux locaux professionnels des entreprises dont l'activité est affectée par la propagation de l'épidémie de covid-19 » [Ordinance n° 2020-316 of 25 March 2020 relating to the payment of rents, water, gas and electricity bills relating to the professional and commercial premises of companies whose activity is affected by the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/eli/ordonnance/2020/3/25/ECOI2008040R/jo/texte (accessed 4 June 2020).

Finland, e-communications and transport: Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom)

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Traficom has established a designated internal response team, which allowed a close coordination with external stakeholders – both governmental but also in the industry and consumer bodies. This allowed Traficom to continue to deal with business-as-usual matters, whilst at the same time it enabled the regulator to gauge the state of play in the markets very early on, and to understand the effects of the sanitary crisis, as well as concerns from the industry. This, in turn, facilitated an evidence-based collaboration with the government authorities, including discussions with the health authorities about the quarantine measures, or the border control and police force.

For immediate longer term measures, Traficom looked at temporary suspension or exemptions from the current legislation for operators.

Additional references:

Traficom (2020), Concessions to renewing driving licences – medical certificate can be submitted afterwards, 24 March 2020, https://www.traficom.fi/en/news/concessions-renewing-driving-licences-medical-certif-icate-can-be-submitted-afterwards (accessed 4 June 2020).

Traficom (2020), Exemptions introduced to rules on bus and heavy goods transport vehicle drivers’ driving times and rest periods, 30 March 2020, https://www.traficom.fi/en/news/exemptions-introduced-rules-bus-and-heavy-goods-transport-vehicle-drivers-driving-times-and (accessed 4 June 2020).

Traficom (2020), Information bulletin for shipowners and Recognized Organizations: Regarding extension of statutory surveys and issuance/endorsement of statutory certificates, including ISM and ISPS, due to COVID-19, https://www.traficom.fi/en/news/information-bulletin-shipowners-and-recognized-organizations-regarding-extension-statutory (accessed 4 June 2020).

Taficom (2020), Decision on granting exemptions under Article 71(1) of Regulation (EU) No 2018/1139, https://www.traficom.fi/sites/default/files/media/regulation/Updated%20decision%20FCL-OPS-MED-ATCO%20Finland%2023.3.2020.pdf (accessed 4 June 2020).

Traficom (2020), Bulletin for aviation maintenance personnel: Exemption from Part-66 licenses during the Corona virus pandemic, https://www.traficom.fi/en/news/bulletin-aviation-maintenance-personnel-exemption-part-66-licenses-during-corona-virus (accessed 4 June 2020).

In addition Traficom co-operates closely with the EU authorities in order to develop a harmonised approach to the COVID-19 crisis across the Union, and to help in developing longer term solutions for restarting the economy.

The EU has issued for e.g. the following material:

European Commission (2020), COVID-19: Overview of the Commission’s response, https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/health/coronavirus-response/overview-commissions-response_en#borders-and-mobility (accessed 4 June 2020).

European Union Aviation Safety Agency (2020), EASA/ECDC issue joint guidelines to assure health safety in air travel despite COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.easa.europa.eu/newsroom-and-events/press-releases/easaecdc-issue-joint-guidelines-assure-health-safety-air-travel (accessed 4 June 2020).

Germany, multisector: Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA)

In Germany, the drop in demand for passenger transport caused problems in storing redundant trains. Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA) enabled operators to co-operate to resolve the issue and store the trains elsewhere. It temporarily suspended ex ante performance schemes for regulated entities and gave operators greater flexibility to modify their terms and conditions of service regulatory obligations without ex ante approval by the regulator.

For telecommunications, BNetzA developed a guidance document on the measures that operators can take when the increased traffic due to teleworking, e-learing etc. on the network leads to issues.

For energy, BNetzA indicated it would be more flexible on construction deadlines for tendered renewable energy projects, such as on-shore wind.

Furthermore, BNetzA published a list of all companies with infrastructure-related activities (telecoms, energy, railway and postal network operators). BNetzA published this list to facilitate operators to get "pass-throughs" for their staff in case they need to go out to repair the grids. Operators can download the list and present it to local authorities for this purpose.

Additional references:

Bundesnetzagentur (2020), “Covid-19 pandemic”, https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/EN/Areas/Telecommunications/Companies/TelecomRegulation/NetNeutrality/Corona/Guidelines%20on%20traffic%20management%20measures.pdf;jsessionid=A4870E40630BE7F323A267291DD75C3D?__blob=publicationFile&v=1 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Bundesnetzagentur (2020), “Bewerbungs- und Vertragsbedingungen” [Application and contract conditions], https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/DE/Allgemeines/DieBundesnetzagentur/BeschaffungAusschreibungen/BeschaffgAusschreibg-node.html;jsessionid=CA161DD21AE10AAB7AF79B517515C9AF (accessed 4 June 2020).

Bundesnetzagentur (2020), “Unternehmen mit Aufgaben im Bereich der Aufrechterhaltung der Funktionsfähig­eit von Netzinfrastrukturen” [Companies with tasks in the area of maintaining the functionality of network infrastructures], https://www.bundesnetzagentur.de/DE/Allgemeines/DieBundesnetzagentur/Infrastrukturinfo/Infrastrukturinfo-node.html (accessed 4 June 2020).

Greece, e-communications: Hellenic Post and Telecommunications Commission (EETT)

During the crisis, EETT has supported all actions and measures taken by the state to ensure connectivity and telecommunications network quality, as well as maintenance to support the increase in demand, due to massive remote working, e-learning and the development of e-health services. EETT is joining forces with network operators and supporting them at this time.

During this period, the regulator has given priority to:

  • The monitoring of network performance during the peak hours for network connectivity and speed to be secured and not be degraded during those hours;

  • Measures for intensification and quality control of services;

  • The implementation by the operators of the specific guidelines of open internet regulation.

The regulator has participated in increased co-ordination and consultation activities (such as teleconferences between representatives of the Ministry and the network operators) in order to address the expected increase and network overload, while ensuring the integrity and reliability of telecommunications infrastructure. In addition, in collaboration with BEREC (the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications), a special reporting mechanism was established and sent to the European Commission. An individual report (data collection from ISP’s) is sent by EETT (and by all other National Regulatory Authorities - NRAs) to BEREC on a weekly basis, related to the increase in internet traffic. The report includes the following information:

  • Status of the overall internet traffic across country, both in the mobile and fixed networks;

  • Actions taken by the NRA;

  • Actions taken by the operators to mitigate the risk of traffic congestion;

  • Communication by the operators towards both public bodies and end-users;

  • Assessment of operators’ Net Neutrality conformity.

The Ministry of Digital Governance has also spearheaded a number of other initiatives; for example: mobilising operators to provide services free of charge, or providing free access to mobile data for remote learning purposes. Complementarily, EETT has taken the initiative to invite network operators to evaluate the possibility of providing their customers (and especially employees, students and pupils) with free call minutes, data and high speed broadband support to cover increased needs of e- learning and remote work both for public and private sector.

Under the initiative of the Ministry, digital tools have also been utilised to respond to the crisis. To support the implementation of emergency measures, an SMS system was developed for citizens to obtain permission to leave their home and circulate in order to conduct their daily personal businesses during the period of restrictive measures (https://mindigital.gr/archives/1284). To facilitate access to medical services, an electronic medical prescription system was implemented for all patients, which enables them to forego a physical visit of the practitioner and instead can receive an electronic or mobile prescription (https://mindigital.gr/archives/1287). Coordination across the public sector has been facilitated through the creation of a “e-presence.gov.gr” platform for teleconferences across all the public sector. In this endeavour, EETT had a supportive technical role in implementing measures.

EETT has also implemented the remote working for its entire staff with VPN access.

Additional references:

BEREC (2020), Press release – Updated BEREC report on the status of internet capacity in light of Covid-19 crisis, https://berec.europa.eu/eng/document_register/subject_matter/berec/press_releases/9247-press-release-updated-berec-report-on-the-status-of-internet-capacity-in-light-of-covid-19-crisis (accessed 4 June 2020).

EETT (2020), “Ανακοίνωση 13/3/2020 “, [Announcement 13/03/2020], https://www.eett.gr/opencms/opencms/admin/News_new/news_1159.html (accessed 4 June 2020).

EETT (2020), “ΕΘΝΙΚΗ ΕΠΙΤΡΟΠΗ ΤΗΛΕΠΙΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΩΝ & ΤΑΧΥΔΡΟΜΕΙΩΝ ΘΕΜΑΤΑ ΗΜΕΡΗΣΙΑΣ ΔΙΑΤΑΞΗΣ της 927 ης (έκτακτης) Συνεδρίασης (14-3-2020)” [National Telecommunications and Post Commission Agenda (extraordinary) Meeting (14/03/2020)], https://www.eett.gr/opencms/export/sites/default/admin/downloads/ImerDiataxeis/Imerisia927.pdf (accessed 04 June 2020).

Greece, transport: Regulatory Authority for Railways (RAS)

In response to the crisis and the stress it has placed on market actors, RAS extended time limits/deadlines in on-going complaint investigations (Dir.2012/34 and Reg.1371/2007) and has informed all parties accordingly. Moreover, RAS revised and postponed some areas of regulatory activities, for example with regard to supervision of the sector (Decision on “Suspension of Supervisory Activities of the year 2020 until 30.04.2020”).

RAS is collecting data on the economic consequences of COVID 19 on the rail market (evolution of traffic and the level of losses incurred by the infrastructure manager and the Rus) in order to support government take the appropriate measures to support the railway sector.

In areas under the responsibility of the executive, RAS proposed to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport to examine the possibility to extend the validity of certificates and licenses provided according to the European legislation. RAS also proposed to the Infrastructure Manager to alleviate the railway companies from some of the infrastructure charges. In general, the regulator is trying to turn the crisis into an opportunity for rail transport.

The objectives of the measures from the perspective of the regulator are to:

  • continue to operate rail infrastructure during this exceptional period in order to support the provision of essential rail freight;

  • ensure the continued operation of maintenance facilities and terminals

  • monitor the economic impacts of the crisis on the transport sectors and starting to prepare for the aftermath of the crisis.

Additional reference:

Suspension of Supervisory Activities of the year 2020 until 30.04.2020 (no link available).

Italy, energy and water: Regulatory Authority for Energy, Networks and Environment (ARERA)

ARERA has introduced a number of changes in terms of its regulatory aims, tools and processes, and governance and organisational structure in order to respond to the crisis.

The regulator modified a number of its regulatory aims and adopted measures that span consumer protection, extensions and exemptions, financial shortages coverage, economic loss coverage and stimulus for economic recovery.

For example:

  • The regulator has created an emergency account up to 1billion Euros to support regulated entities in energy and water sectors (i.e. electricity, gas, water & wastewater) and defined the rules to access to it.

  • In the electricity sector, it has added a cap and floor to costs for dispatching units that do not manage to predict their consumption.

  • It implemented rules in relation to suspension of shut-off against default payers during the time of the crisis to protect consumers faced with the inability of paying bills for essential services such as water, electricity and gas.

A number of processes have also changed: relations with stakeholders are more frequent but informal; formal consultation processes have been put on hold; routine data reporting requests are suspended and the regulator is performing ex ante assessments based on data that it already holds.

Finally, the regulator has adapted its governance and internal organisation. It has established internal task forces to gain deeper understanding of COVID-19 implications for each regulated sector, sometimes with board members or senior decision-makers substantially involved in leading these. ARERA is employing smart tools to facilitate remote working, rescheduling monitoring and enforcement duties to free up staff for urgent tasks, and revising its strategic targets.

The regulator has published detailed amendments in respect of waste management regulations as a consequence of changes in national law, and presented its set of measures to the parliament and government.

Additional references:

ARERA (2020), “Emergenza Coronavirus” [Coronavirus emergency], https://www.arera.it/it/news/coronavirus.htm#provvedimenti (accessed 4 June 2020).

ARERA (2020), “Segnalazione 23 aprile 2020 136/2020/I/com”, [Reporting 23 April 2020], https://www.arera.it/it/docs/20/136-20.htm.

ARERA (2020), “Delibera 05 maggio 2020” [Deliberation 5 May 2020], https://www.arera.it/it/docs/20/158-20.htm.

Italy, transport: Transport Regulation Authority (ART)

In the absence of ad hoc legislation setting out special provisions for the exercise of the Authority's functions and powers, the Italian Transport Regulation Authority (ART) has continued to assess the extent to which its existing ex ante regulatory measures remains applicable, to consider amendments if necessary and appropriate and to second legislative measures adopted to alleviate specific procedural onuses concerning administrative proceedings, which may particularly difficult to meet under the circumstances.

In this latter respect, in order to accompany the provisions enshrined in emergency legislation with procedural measures falling within its remit, ART adopted measures concerning the calculation of deadlines relevant to the definition of administrative proceedings pending at the date of February 23rd and thereafter. While proceedings were not automatically suspended, in line with what is provided for under the law and upon the motivated request of interested parties, existing deadlines have been pushed forward.

Furthermore, where relevant, the regulator is kept informed by the transport undertakings about the requests they address to the infrastructure managers or other managing bodies and the administrations concerned to obtain adjustments of contractual provisions taking into account the services which are currently operating. The salience of the issue rests on the different incidence of the epidemiological emergency on open access services and industries as opposed to services rendered under public service obligations.

In addition, the Authority receives reports and complaints with reference to its functions concerning the protection of passenger rights and the quality of services.

More generally, beyond the immediate emergency measures, attention of the regulator has shifted to the management of the recovery and related conditions to ensure the continuity of domestic and cross-border freight services and the supply of shared transport passenger services (both by rail and other means) under conditions and through modalities that are consistent with the measures adopted to protect passengers’ health.

Additional reference:

ART (2020), COVID-19 epidemiological emergency on the national territory. Measures concerning deadlines in the Authority’s proceedings, Decision No 69/2020, https://www.autorita-trasporti.it/delibere/decision-no-69-2020/?lang=en.

Lithuania, energy: National Energy Regulatory Council (VERT)

VERT’s emergency situations operation centre reviewed recommendations for internal staff management during the pandemic. Apart from essential staff, staffers have the possibility to work from home. The emergency situations operation centre issued requirements for handling a confirmed coronavirus diagnosis among VERT staff or contact with a confirmed case.

VERT continues to carry out its usual functions with some exceptions. Activities that would normally involve face-to-face contact have been suspended or altered. VERT has suspended physical inspections (although inspections of outdoor equipment is allowed under certain conditions) and physical fact-finding in dispute resolution cases. Consultations with consumers and businesses have been moved online. VERT continues to participate in the completion of construction processes under certain conditions (for example, if decisions based on written documentation alone are not possible or if the object or installation is outdoors and accessible while conforming to Ministry of Health guidelines). VERT continues to grant certain permits, but permits requiring a site visit will only be considered after assessing the necessity of the permit and ensuring site visits can be conducted while conforming to Ministry of Health guidelines. VERT has publicly consulted and has adopted amendments to VERT regulation to take into account when fixing regulated prices the exceptional industry costs incurred during the pandemic from customer default on payments, interest on a working capital loans and protection measures. Other functions - such as registering market participants, issuing certificates, evaluating investments, issuing licenses, and publication of fuel prices – are conducted as usual.

The parliament, government and the regulated industry have taken measures to ensure continuity of supply and affordability in the energy and water sectors. The electricity distribution system operator announced that they would not cut off electricity or natural gas for consumers in cases of non-payment. The DSO will limit work on the system that causes temporary shutoffs. Measures adopted by parliament specify that consumers should have the opportunity to defer payments or pay in instalments for electricity and gas consumption and municipalities can defer or pay in instalments for utilities and heat. In the water sector, the largest company announced that customers in a state of financial need because of coronavirus are eligible to defer payments without interest.

Additional references:

VERT (2020), “VERT Viešoji konsultacija: VERT teikia derinti siūlomus reguliuojamų sektorių įmonių apskaitos atskyrimo ir sąnaudų paskirstymo pakeitimus” [VERT Public Consultation: VERT Provides Coordination of Proposed Changes to Accounting Separation and Cost Allocation for Companies in Regulated Sectors] (in Lithuanian), https://www.vert.lt/Puslapiai/naujienos/2020-metai/2020-balandis/2020-04-20/vert-teikia-derinti-siulomus-reguliuojamu-imoniu-apskaitos-atskyrimo-ir-sanaudu-paskirstymo.aspx.

VERT (2020), “Pažyma Dėl Valstybinės Energetikos Reguliavimo Tarybos 2018 M. Gruodžio 21 D. Nutarimo Nr. O3E-464, [Certificate on Resolution No. of the National Energy Regulatory Council of 21 December 2018 O3E-464] (in Lithuanian), https://www.vert.lt/SiteAssets/posedziai/2020-05-21/ras_pakeitimai.pdf.

Mexico, e-communications: Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT)

The Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT) has developed several recommendations to maintain the effective provision of telecommunications service and to inform and support users of e-communications services during the COVID-19 emergency. With regard to the services and procedures of the regulator, while face-to-face activities have been temporarily suspended, IFT has made 126 out of its 173 procedures (73%) available digitally.

The regulator has created a webpage “Facing Coronavirus” that brings together information on responses by operators and the regulator, as well as the official information published by the Ministry of Health. For example, the webpage includes information on consumption management by consumers in the interest of network capacity, such as recommending the use of the internet vs mobile data, favouring the use of voice communications and instant messaging vs videoconferencing or video calls, and adjusting schedules to periods with lower data traffic. Information is made available in Spanish and in indigenous languages.

In co-ordination between IFT, the government and operators, it was decided that SMS services would be used to provide information and updates on the pandemic to citizens. Moreover, users can access the Federal Government information portal on the Covid-19 pandemic (https://coronavirus.gob.mx), without consuming data on their plans. During this period, some mobile service operators are also offering additional support schemes to their clients, such as flexibility of data limits and/ or fair use policies without extra charge, the extension of the validity of some prepaid plans. Similarly, in the case of fixed telephony and internet services, operators have put in place a contingency support scheme allowing customers to temporarily migrate to a low-cost plan.

Finally, in order to ensure continuity of services, the regulator has recommended that federal, state and municipal authorities across Mexico guarantee that workers of telecommunications concessionaires are able to carry out necessary actions with regard to the installation, operation and maintenance, both preventive and corrective, of their infrastructure, as well as authorizing, procuring and safeguarding their entry, exit and transit.

Additional reference:

IFT (2020), “La Industria te apoya Da clic y conoce las ofertas y beneficios que la industria de telecomunicaciones tiene durante esta pandemia por COVID-19” [Industry supports you. Click and know the offers and benefits that the telecommunications industry has during this pandemic by COVID-19], http://www.ift.org.mx/comunicacion-y-medios/frente-al-coronavirus-las-telecom-estan-de-tu-lado/la-industria-te-apoya (accessed 4 June 2020).

New Zealand, multi-sector: New Zealand Commerce Commission

The Commerce Commission took a number of actions to ease the burden on regulated industry so that these actors could focus on continuing to provide essential services. Responding to specific industry requests and working with the relevant market regulator, the Commission identified and deferred some regulatory actions that placed a burden on service providers. The regulator deferred a range of activities, including information requests and disclosures, early-stage compliance and enforcement actions, operation of some incentive schemes, and the initial steps for long-term activities. The regulator stated that it would be pragmatic about penalties where companies can demonstrate that any compliance issues have arisen because it prioritised efforts to protect customers, security of supply and safety or as a consequence of factors entirely outside of the company’s control.

To keep consumers informed about issues related to communications networks, the Commission published a page on their website with tips for consumers on improving broadband performance. The page provides easy-to-understand information about what to do if there is an issue and where to go for help. It includes information on locating financial support for e-communications services and instructions on resolving disputes with broadband providers. The regulator initiated this action, in consultation with consumer and other relevant bodies. The Commission subsequently published a similar note for consumers about energy on the same pages.

Additional references:

New Zealand Commerce Commission (2020), Tips on how to improve your broadband performance, https://comcom.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/staying-connected-during-covid-19/improving-your-broadband-performance.

New Zealand Commerce Commission (2020), Tips on how to improve your broadband performance, https://comcom.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/staying-connected-during-covid-19/improving-your-broadband-performance.

New Zealand Commerce Commission (2020), Regulated industries, https://comcom.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19/regulated-industries.

New Zealand Commerce Commission (2020), COVID-19, https://comcom.govt.nz/about-us/covid-19.

Peru, e-communications: Organismo Supervisor de Inversión Privada en Telecomunicaciones (OSIPTEL)

OSIPTEL had taken a broad range of measures together with the government, in order to maintain continuity of service and resilience in the telecoms sector during the sanitary crisis. These were focused on ensuring that operators avoid network saturation to facilitate teleworking and education services, protection of vulnerable consumers and of those impacted by economic effects, and ensuring that sanitary guidelines are observed and face-to-face contact is reduced between operators’ staff and consumers.

As such, the following specific measures and recommendations were implemented:

  • Traffic management was required of all operators, so that remote working, tele-education and health services is prioritised during working hours;

  • Increase in data caps or speed reduction caps was recommended to providers;

  • Face-to-face customer support services were suspended including the provision of new services which require physical presence in a personal home, the replacement of SIM cards, or repair of equipment;

  • New fixed services could be contracted under the provision that operators perform instalment at an external point outside the user’s home, while complementary wiring and installation inside the users’ home must be performed by the users themselves through remote technical assistance;

  • Cessation of service due to bill payment was forbidden until the end of the state of emergency; consumers were granted the opportunity to arrange instalment debt payments.

In terms of internal organisation and changes to the ways of working, OSIPTEL suspended face to face customer services in all offices nationwide, as well as deadlines of any administrative procedures carried on with operators. This included easements on the periodical information requests and reports provided to the regulator. In addition, in order to mitigate some of the financial strains on the operators, OSIPTEL extended the regulatory fee payment date by 2 months.

Additional references:

OSIPTEL (2020), “Comunicado a la Opinión Pública” [Statement: Closing of OSIPTEL customer support offices nationwide], https://www.osiptel.gob.pe/noticia/comunicado-medidas-emergencia-contagio (accessed 4 June 2020).

OSIPTEL (2020), “Aprobar la Norma que establece las disposiciones para garantizar la continuidad de los servicios públicos de telecomunicaciones” [Measures to ensure telecommunication services continuity], https://www.osiptel.gob.pe/articulo/res035-2020-pd-osiptel (accessed 4 June 2020).

OSIPTEL (2020), “NP011-2020. OSIPTEL recomienda a empresas operadoras aprovisionarse de más ancho de banda” [Statement and Letter to telecom operators: recommendations in order to guarantee internet connectivity as a support of remote working and tele education], http://www.osiptel.gob.pe/noticia/np-osiptel-recomienda-empresas-mas-ancho-banda (accessed 4 June 2020).

OSIPTEL (2020), “Aprobar las “Medidas adicionales y temporales para la prestación de los servicios públicos de telecomunicaciones durante el aislamiento social” [Additional temporary measures for the provision of public telecommunication services during compulsory lockdown], https://www.osiptel.gob.pe/articulo/res045-2020-cd (accessed 4 June 2020).

OSIPTEL (2020), “Prorrogar el plazo para el Pago del Aporte por Regulación correspondiente al mes de marzo 2020 hasta el 11 de mayo de 2020” [Extends the due date of the regulatory tax payment], https://www.osiptel.gob.pe/articulo/res046-2020-cd (accessed 4 June 2020).

OSIPTEL (2020), “Aprobar las Medidas complementarias a las disposiciones para la prestación de los servicios de telecomunicaciones que establece el Decreto de Urgencia N° 035-2020, en los siguientes términos.” [Complementary measures for the provision of public telecommunication services following Urgent Decree No.°035-2020], https://www.osiptel.gob.pe/articulo/res040-2020-pd-osiptel (accessed 4 June 2020).

OSIPTEL (2020), “Aprobar las disposiciones para garantizar la continuidad, la promoción de la competencia y el desarrollo sostenido de los servicios públicos de telecomunicaciones en el marco del Estado de Emergencia Nacional” [Dispositions to guarantee continuity competition and sustainable development of public telecommunication services during national], https://www.osiptel.gob.pe/articulo/res050-2020-cd (accessed 4 June 2020).

Portugal, transport: Autoridade da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (AMT)

In response to the pandemic, the Autoridade da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (AMT) faced an increase in complaints regarding the cancellation of service, the validation of tickets and regarding the lack of compliance by the operators and passengers with the health rules adopted within the scope of the pandemic. The switch to remote working and social distancing makes it more difficult, as there is a decrease in response to information requests to gather evidence.

The AMT works closely with municipalities during the pandemic, to gain essential information on the situation of small companies in the sector, in order to monitor trends in the sector. As municipalities are closer to especially the smaller companies in the market, the collaboration increases the insights of AMT in the sector.

Additional reference

AMT (2020), “Comunicados COVID-19” [COVID-19 Communications], http://www.amt-autoridade.pt/comunica%C3%A7%C3%A3o/covid-19 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Portugal, water and waste: Entidade Reguladora dos Serviços de Águas e Resíduos (ERSAR)

In Portugal, the Ministry of Environment, the Water and Solid Waste Regulator (ERSAR), the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) and the Health Directorate have been working together and several measures have been taken to guarantee service availability.

The state of emergency was declared by the government at the end of March. The Minister of Environment, with contributions from ERSAR, identified the minimum services needed in the water and waste sectors. After that, the government published several orders related to the minimum services to detail what this means.

A summary of the national legislation related with the COVID-19 pandemic, with impact in the water and wastewater sectors, can be found in this dedicated webpage under the document title "Legislação relevante COVID-19": http://www.ersar.pt/pt/site-comunicacao/site-noticias/Paginas/Perguntas-Frequentes-Informa%C3%A7%C3%A3o-COVID-190420-3045.aspx.

In late March, the Minister of Environment set up an Emergency Monitoring Structure and appointed ERSAR as the responsible entity for monitoring the situation of the water/wastewater and solid waste operators. The main objective was to identify and control potential causes of problems in services delivery. The regulator carried out a questionnaire survey twice a week to tackle difficulties in providing services and identify the sector’s needs in terms of materials such as gloves, masks and alcohol gel, in order to anticipate and prevent product shortages. The survey was sent to all operators (almost 400 entities) and the data collected was treated and included in a report sent to the Ministry. Following the treatment of the data, the regulator also contacted the entities that revealed service continuity problems, by phone, to understand the scale of the problem and to try to help them solve it. Currently, after the end of the emergency state, the surveys and reporting continue on a weekly basis.

ERSAR defined and published recommendations for water companies and laboratories, to guarantee the safety of tap water, and also for solid waste collection and treatment operators. Following ERSAR's recommendations, drinking water suppliers and solid waste operators have been adapting their procedures to minimise contamination risks. The operators’ contingency plans include ERSAR's recommendations and rules to minimise the spread of the infection among workers that remain active to guarantee minimum services provision.

ERSAR and the Environment Agency developed joint guidelines for the solid waste sector, which include specific advice for the following:

  • Management of waste produced by households

  • Management of waste produced in companies, hotels and other accommodations with a high concentration of people, ports and airports

The guidelines for waste collection and treatment operators, include:

  • General recommendations

  • Recommendations for hospital waste management operators

  • Recommendations for the management of households’ urban waste and small waste producers (e.g. small nursing homes)

  • Recommendations for waste management of large producers (of industrial and non-hazardous hospital waste) and for recycling facilities

  • Minimum services

  • Specific guidelines on how to use personal protection equipment such as gloves and masks, and other useful guidelines to maintain good hygiene of materials and surfaces.

A third document was also developed with guidelines and measures that should be implemented by operators in order to protect workers involved in waste collection and treatment operations.

The principal measures for the water companies are as follows:

  1. 1. Full implementation of the legal drinking-water quality control with flexibility in the sampling points definition, although they should always comply with the consumers' tap criteria.

ERSAR reminded water companies that there are still several buildings open that could be used as sampling points such as some schools (that remained open to serve the children of health professionals and emergency personnel), as well their own premises or outdoor water fountains connected to the network.

  1. 2. Where it is not possible to guarantee the legal drinking-water quality control, water companies are allowed to postpone the scheduled sampling, but they should follow at least one of the next two recommendations:

  • Carry out the sampling procedure according to the initial schedule using sampling points in the network instead of the consumers' tap. In this situation, the water companies are advised that this sampling and testing does not replace the legal one and later on (after the emergency) the regulator will have to analyse the possibilities of guaranteeing the compliance with the DWD.

  • If, for several reasons (for instance lack of personnel or reduced laboratories capacity to analyse samples), it is not possible to implement the previous recommendation, ERSAR advises the water companies to test the microbiology and the critical parameters, selected according to their risk assessment, in the network. Like the previous recommendation, after the end of the emergency the regulator will analyse the possibilities to guarantee the DWD full compliance.

  1. 3. Guarantee at all times at least 0.5 mg/l of free chlorine according to WHO recommendations.

  2. 4. Guidelines and measures that should be implemented by the operators in order to protect workers.

Recently, considering the end of the emergency state and the gradual return to normality, ERSAR issued a specific recommendation with safety procedures for closed buildings that were shut down during the lockdown. The document points out that:

  • Before resuming activity in buildings such as schools, hotels, factories, offices and others, the maintenance staff should carry out inspections in the network to detect eventual changes in the quality of stagnant water due to the loss of residual disinfectant and contact with the materials of the building network;

  • A set of practical measures should be implemented in terms of cleaning and sanitizing the network of cold and hot water in order to prevent changes in the quality of the water and the proliferation of Legionella, among other microorganisms, especially in large buildings.

Furthermore, previous guidelines for the solid waste sector were updated in line with the easing of lockdown measures, focusing on:

    • Extending the scope to the correct disposal and handling of waste produced in workplaces, schools and universities, among others, to ensure a safe restart;

  • Recommendations for the gradual return to normality for waste management, for instance, in terms of the frequency of selective and undifferentiated waste collection and the withdrawal of the storage period of selectively collected waste destined for recycling, prior to its processing.

Regarding tariffs, ERSAR considers that operators should use social tariffs or other similar mechanisms, to solve the problems of unemployment and layoffs. The measures taken by operators should be directed towards people with proven financial needs instead of indiscriminately. This is a frequently asked question, which ERSAR has included in a FAQs document available on its website as well as on private forums for operators.

Concerning the provision of essential services, the government issued an Act and under article 4 of Law no. 7/2020, dated 10 April 2020: i) during the state of emergency and in the following month, the suspension of the provision of essential services, namely water supply service, is prohibited. ii) If there are due amounts as of 20 March 2020, a payment plan must be agreed between the service provider and the consumer, starting in the second month after the state of emergency.

ERSAR's team remains connected with the operators, using the ERSAR Portal - a private platform with forums used to share information and answer questions on how to deal with COVID-19.

Additional references:

ERSAR's guidelines & recommendations for the water sector:

  • Safety procedures for closed buildings(Orientação sobre procedimentos a adotar na rede predial de edifícios encerrados).

  • Updated guidelines on the implementation of the water quality control plan (WQCP) and guidelines for the protection of workers' health (Orientações para serviços de Abastecimento de Águas e Saneamento de Águas Residuais)."

  • Execution guidelines for the WQCP (Concretização das orientações circuladas sobre a implementação dos PCQA).

  • Clarifications on the guidelines for WQCP (Esclarecimentos à implementação dos PCQA).

  • Guidelines on how to implement the WQCP (Circular orientações relativas à implementação dos PCQA).

  • Guidelines for water supply and waste water services (Orientações para os serviços de abastecimento de águas e saneamento de águas residuais), http://www.ersar.pt/pt/site-comunicacao/site-noticias/Paginas/Orientacoes-Servicos-Abastecimento-Agua-Saneamento-Aguas-Residuais-COVID-19.aspx.

Joint guidelines for solid waste sector:

Portugal, energy: Entidade Reguladora dos Serviços Energéticos (ERSE)

1. General legal framework

After the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Scope by the World Health Organization on 30 January 2020 and the subsequent definition of Covid-19 as a pandemic (11 March 2020), the Portuguese government enacted a suite of legal texts implementing emergency measures. These measures aim to serve as a buffer to the spread of Covid-19 and its social and economic implications, targeting citizens, companies, private and public entities.

The State of Emergency was issued by Presidential Decree on 18 March 2020 and was extended twice, running until 2 May 2020, 23:59. The State of Emergency was immediately followed by the declaration of a “State of Calamity” between 3 May and 31 May 2020, 23:59. During this period, a comprehensive set of measures and conditions were put in place to reopen the economy progressively and to relax the confinement framework in three phases.

The government also adopted a range of legal acts specifically targeting the energy sector. These are explained further in the following sections:

  • Directorate General for Energy and Geology (DGEG): Order No. 27/2020, of 20 March, which establishes exceptional and temporary measures within the scope of the licensing of the electricity sector, in response to the epidemiological situation arising from Covid-19; renewed by Order No. 33/2020 of 30 April.

  • Ministry for Environment and Climate Action (MAAC): Order No. 3547-A/2020, of 22 March, which regulates the declaration of the state of emergency, guaranteeing the functioning of the supply chains for goods and essential public services, as well as the conditions under which they must operate.

  • Parliament: Law No. 7/2020, of 10 April 2020, which establishes extraordinary and temporary response measures due to the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic, and which suspends disconnections of essential services, including electricity and gas.

  • Ministry for Economy and Digital Transition (MEDT) and Ministry for Environment and Climate Action (MAAC): Order No. 76/2020, of 17 April 2020, which fixes maximum prices, during the period in which the state of emergency prevails, for bottled liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), in standard steel typologies T3 and T5.

  • Parliament: Law No. 14/2020, of 9 May 2020, which provides that, in case of necessity, the Minister of Economy and the Minister of the designated area, have the prerogative to restrain and limit the market (e.g.. set maximum prices, restrain profit margins, etc.). In the energy sector, the government maintains the prerogative to fix, at any time, maximum prices for liquefied petroleum gas.

  • Parliament: Law No. 18/2020, of 29 May 2020, which extends the deadlines for measures to support families in the context of the current public health crisis, amending Law No. 7/2020, of 10 April, which establishes exceptional and temporary response regimes to the SARS-CoV- epidemic 2.

  • Ministry for Modernisation of the State and Public Administration, Environment and Climate Action and Infrastructure and Housing: Ordinance No. 149/2020, of 22 June 2020, which establishes the non-suspension of the supply of water, electricity, natural gas and electronic communication, until 30 September 2020, to households that experience a fall in income equal to or above 20%.

  • All primary and secondary legislation is published on a dedicated page in the National Bulletin: https://dre.pt/legislacao-covid-19. The government has also developed a dedicated website that stores information for citizens and businesses: https://covid19estamoson.gov.pt/.

2. Energy sector

In the energy sector, the measures adopted by the government and by the Energy Services Regulatory Authority (ERSE) follow three main concerns: the stabilization of the sector, consumer protection and risk mitigation and security of supply chains. As of end-June, no issues had been reported concerning congestion or security of supply chains.

a. Measures taken to stabilise the sector

Within the scope of its responsibilities, ERSE has issued three Regulations containing a set of exception and urgent measures to support the continuing functioning of energy markets, in the interest of consumers.

Following an urgent public consultation in April 2020 and with a view to providing stability and continuity to the electricity sector during these uncertain times, ERSE adopted Regulation nº 6/2020, extending the current 2018-2020 regulatory period for the electricity sector to end-2021. As outlined in ERSE’s decision, the current health crisis caused by Covid-19 disease entails such a dimension of unpredictability that, at this stage, it does not allow for the consistent definition of new regulatory goals and methodologies to take effect in a three-year horizon, i.e. in a new regulatory period.

In addition, ERSE’s Regulation No. 255-A/2020, of 17 March, extended and reinforced by Regulation No. 356-A/2020, of 8 April, establishes a range of measures to stabilise the sector, including:

  • Obliging network operators to prioritize their actions in order to guarantee the supply of energy to priority installations (hospitals and health centers, including installations that are “mobilized” for this activity, as well as public safety and civil protection installations);

  • Extending the deadline to request that an incident be classified as an exceptional event;

  • Extending other regulatory deadlines for network operators, suppliers of last resort and suppliers as regards their relations with consumers by 50% of the current deadlines in force;

  • Obliging network operators, suppliers, and suppliers of last resort to keep ERSE informed of their respective contingency plans.

  • Regulation No. 356-A/2020 establishes supplementary rules not covered by Regulation No. 255-A/2020, namely:

    • Moratorium on the payment of network access charges by suppliers with less than 5% market share that experience a fall in invoices equal to or above 40%, in order to avoid situations of default which, if they were to materialise, would have a negative effect on the national electricity and gas systems;

    • Payment plans for suppliers for outstanding network access charges in 9 monthly instalments. No interest can be charged for the debt accumulated during this period;

    • Extension of the deadlines included in the regime for risk management and guarantees for the national electricity system, in order to adjust it to the emergency period;

    • Postponement, until 1/10/2020, of the entry into operation of the supplier switching platform for the electricity sector implemented and managed exclusively by the OLMC (Operador Logístico da Mudança de Comercializador);

    • Postponement of other reporting deadlines to the regulator.

In parallel, the government’s energy-specific measures mentioned above address a range of issues related to the stable functioning of the sector.

Directorate General for Energy and Geology (DGEG) Orders No. 27/2020 and 33/2020 establish that:

  • Procedural deadlines for the electricity sector are suspended until the end of the exceptional situation is declared

  • New requests are suspended, until 1 June, for the granting of:

    • Reserve capacity titles

    • Agreements for the allocation of reception capacity in the public service electricity grid;

    • Registration of small production units or self-consumption production units

    • Licenses for the production of electricity (normal, renewable or cogeneration production)

    • Licenses for the establishment of network infrastructure (lines and extensions, transformer stations, substations, except those for public or private service that fall under DGEG's “emergency situations”).

  • DGEG's services will focus on the handling of pending procedures, in particular those related to the provision of essential public services.

Similar provisions regarding procedural deadlines, inspections and new requests were implemented in the fuels sector, in Order No. 31/2020.

Furthermore, the Ministry for Environment and Climate Action (MAAC) Order No. 3547-A/2020 establishes which energy actions must continue, including an obligation on the DSOs to guarantee essential services, namely:

  • Network Management and Operation Activity – North and South Dispatches Activity

  • HV/MV and LV Network Assistance Activities – Network Breakdowns and Anomalies

  • Extended Public Lighting Repair

  • Maintenance of protective strips and fuel management in situations of imminent risk

  • Technical Assistance to Breakdowns in Customers

  • Reconnections and Urgent Customer Connections

  • Commercial Service Orders Scheduled with Customers

The electricity and gas TSOs and the gas storage operator are also required to guarantee the operation and functioning of their electricity and gas control, dispatch, operations centres, including resolution of any breakdown or incidents.

b. Measures to mitigate any risks for consumers/changes in cut-off procedures in case of non-payment

In addition to sector stability measures, ERSE’s Regulation No. 255-A/2020 and Regulation No. 356-A/2020 include extraordinary measures for the supply of electricity, natural gas and piped LPG to help consumers facing payment difficulties during the Covid-19 pandemic. As regards consumer aspects, the measures in Regulation No. 255-A/2020 include:

  • Extending by an additional 30 calendar days the 20-day prior notice period before disconnections can take place (until 30 June 2020). In effect placing a ban on disconnections during the emergency period (ERSE may decide to extend this period further as the situation evolves);

  • Allowing consumers to pay back suppliers in instalments for any debt accumulated during this period (from 13 March 2020 to 30 June 2020), in up to 12 monthly payments. No interest can be charged for the debt accumulated during this period;

  • Requiring the distribution network operators and the global system operators to bear temporarily the debt related to outstanding network charges from indebted consumers. The debt is measured by the difference between the payments received by the suppliers and the charges of the network and system operators for this exceptional period;

  • Requiring the network operators to adopt a payment plan for suppliers for the relevant network charges. No interest may be charged for this period. ERSE will regulate the suppliers’ payments to the network and system operators;

  • Requiring network operators, suppliers, and suppliers of last resort to avoid physical contact with consumers in their homes, and to reinforce their means of remote communication for the purposes of meter readings, clarifications or establishment of payment plans for consumers;

  • Calling on consumers to send in their own meter readings, to avoid consumption estimates.

These consumer protection measures were extended and reinforced by ERSE in Regulation No. 356-A/2020. This new Regulation extends, until 30 June 2020, the deadlines set in Regulation No. 225-A/2020, and specifies the arrangements for payments by instalment for electricity and natural gas bills, allowing up to 12 monthly instalments for consumers. For business clients with and without smart meters, the Regulation establishes an adjustment of the capacity and energy charges to be invoiced to companies that have applied the “lay-off” regime as a result of the partial or total suspension of their economic activity.

In addition, the Parliament extended until 30 September 2020 its prohibition of disconnections of essential services during the state of emergency and the month following it (Law No. 7/2020 of 10 April), for cases of unemployment, a 20% or more cut in the family household's overall income or COVID infection (Law No. 18/2020 of 29 May). For its part, ERSE has also extended its suspension of disconnections to the specific situations established in the new law, for the period between 30 June and 30 September 2020.

ERSE’s consumer information activities have also been reinforced during this period, to inform consumers about the new measures, and also to warn them about emerging predatory practices. For example, following reported attempts by fraudsters to gain access to consumer homes, ERSE warned consumers against possible misleading contacts claiming to undertake energy inspections. No periodic inspections are taking place during the crisis. More generally, during the crisis, ERSE has provided recommendations to consumers on saving energy and information on the social tariff for the energy sector. ERSE has also strengthened its consumer information campaign on the radio.

Following the government’s decision to set maximum prices for bottled gas during the State of Emergency (Order No. 76/2020, of 17 April 2020), which was informed by ERSE’s monitoring of a rapid spike in prices, ERSE was tasked with calculating and publishing these maximum prices. Similarly, ERSE issued an alert to consumers about potential speculation in delivery charges for bottled gas.

c. Measures adopted by electricity and gas TSOs/DSOs

In addition to the measures listed above and required by ERSE’s Regulations, Portuguese DSOs and TSOs are also applying a variety of operational measures, including:

  • Staff and control room redundancy measures

  • Hygiene and safety provisions for staff

  • Teleworking arrangements for staff

  • Minimal staff onsite to guarantee essential services and functioning

  • Closure of customer service offices: customers are advised to contact their companies electronically or by phone, unless there is an urgent repair issue

3. ERSE’s Contingency plan for Covid-19

In terms of internal measures, ERSE initiated preventative measures and instructions for its staff on 13 February 2020. It approved a detailed contingency plan on 10 March 2020, which has been revised and upgraded as the situation has evolved, in line with the Government’s announcements and measures. The plan includes provisions for working arrangements before, during and following the crisis period. Staff and Board meetings are held via Webex and Skype for Business.

Additional reference:

ERSE (2020), Press release: ERSE adopts extraordinary measures to avoid energy supply disconnections during COVID-19, https://www.erse.pt/media/5rglntj4/press-release-exceptional-rules-covid_ven.pdf (accessed 4 June 2020).

Russian Federation, multisector: Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS)

The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), in accordance with the instructions of the President, the Government of the Russian Federation, is at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus and monitors on a daily basis the price and availability of essential goods and basic necessities such as medicines, medical products, and foodstuffs.

Monitoring utility sectors and competition

Regarding utility sectors and competition policy, FAS has adopted several initiatives and continues to monitor the situation.

In connection with the transition of a huge number of workers to remote work, the FAS monitors traffic and capacity of mobile networks, as well as the possible increase in prices for mobile communications. According to the regulator, despite the fact that traffic on the communication network has grown by 20% since the beginning of the sanitary emergency, price increases are not expected even with the projected increase in traffic.

The FAS Russia is also closely studying cases of increasing prices for air tickets caused by air travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19.

Wholesale and retail prices for fuel and energy resources are monitored on an ongoing basis.

The FAS Russia also actively monitors any changes in antimonopoly regulation taking place in the world and uses it when adjusting its activities in the current conditions.

Support to businesses is currently considered by the Government of the Russian Federation as one of the most important tasks in light of the effective recovery of the country's economy in the post-crisis period. In this context, the FAS Russia is working on the possibility of introducing some exemptions from antimonopoly legislation if the consumer benefits will exceed the likely damage to competition, as well as changes in M&A review.

Changes in FAS Russia’s operational work

The FAS Russia, being a multi-sector regulator, continues to exercise its functions, namely to monitor compliance with antimonopoly laws, tariff regulation procedures, public procurement and foreign investment.

On March 20, the FAS Russia announced that it would suspend appointments and inspections until April 10, 2020, with the exception of unannounced inspections initiated on the signs of violations of laws related to protecting the life and health of citizens, legislation on public procurement and legislation on state defence orders.

The FAS Russia also “temporarily postponed”, “taking into account all necessary deadlines”, the consideration of cases of violation of antimonopoly legislation and administrative offenses, or started their remote consideration by video link.

Recognising the COVID-19 pandemic as a force majeure event, the FAS Russia will take this situation into account when considering complaints about state and municipal procurements and procurements of state-owned companies and cases of administrative offenses.

The measures taken by the FAS Russia in order to stabilise current business processes include the appeal of the FAS Russia to the Central Bank with a request to ensure the operation of banks regarding the functioning of special accounts and the issuance of bank guarantees required to participate in procurement, as well as actions taken by the FAS Russia to maintain the regime work of electronic platforms for bidding.

A big step in ensuring the continuity of law enforcement processes is the ability announced by the FAS Russia to remotely (in the form of video conferencing) consider complaints at the central office of public tenders, concessions, privatisation, bankruptcy and other industries from March 26 in all federal districts (excluding Moscow and the Moscow region).

Moreover, more than half of the employees of the central office and regional offices of the FAS Russia switched to a remote format of work; interaction between employees is carried out through video and audio communications.

In conclusion, the FAS Russia, as a federal executive body, continues to exercise its powers on a daily basis during the pandemic. To date, co-operation between the FAS Russia and its regional offices, as well as with other federal executive authorities, has become especially important, which allows the regulator to observe the complete picture on socially significant markets online in all regions of Russia, to conduct joint price control and prevent goods shortages.

Additional references:

FAS Russia (2020), “Statement of Igor Artemiev, Head of the FAS Russia, to the international competition community on COVID-19”, https://en.fas.gov.ru/press-center/news/detail.html?id=54878.

FAS Russia (2020), COVID-19 information page (in Russian): https://fas.gov.ru/pages/mery-v-svjazi-s-pandemiej-covid-2019.

Spain, multisector: Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia (CNMC)

CNMC is working closely with the Government in the response to the COVID pandemic. In this context, they have prioritised consumer protection, through the application of competition rules and regulation. More specifically, CNMC opened an online whistleblowing hotline and enquiries platform to facilitate receiving competition complaints and inquiries in relation to practices connected with COVID-19. The objective is avoiding anti-competitive practices or market manipulation, and also guaranteeing the proper functioning of regulated markets for the benefit of consumers and users.

Since March 14 and until the end of the state of emergency, the Government has suspended procedural deadlines in all jurisdictional orders. Nevertheless, the CNMC has adopted measures to guarantee the continuity of procedures that are essential for protecting general interest or basic operations of public utilities. The Government, counting on the surveillance of the CNMC, has also imposed disconnection bans and measures to ensure the supply of basic utilities.

The CNMC continues to pursue actions necessary to supervise the markets and to promote effective competition, as well as other work aimed at matters of access to infrastructure, which it regards as urgent.

Additional references:

CNMC (2020), “COVID-19: La CNMC centraliza aquí toda la información relativa a la actividad que se ve afectada a causa de la pandemia. En las circunstancias actuales, la prioridad de la CNMC es la protección de los consumidores” [COVID-19: The CNMC centralizes here all the information related to the activity that is affected by the pandemic. In current circumstances, the CNMC's priority is consumer protection], https://www.cnmc.es/covid-19 (accessed 4 June 2020).

CNMC (2020), “COVID-19 Denuncias y consultas relacionadas con la aplicación de las normas de competencia” [COVID-19 Complaints and consultations regarding the application of competition rules], https://www.cnmc.es/prensa/buzon-covid19-pautas-20200424

Ministry for Ecological Transition (2020), “Medidas ante el brote del coronavirus COVID-19 – Energía” [Measures for the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 – Energy], https://www.miteco.gob.es/es/ministerio/medidas-covid19/energia/ (accessed 4 June 2020).

State Agency Official State Gazette (2020), “Real Decreto 463/2020, de 14 de marzo, por el que se declara el estado de alarma para la gestión de la situación de crisis sanitaria ocasionada por el COVID-19.” [Royal Decree 463/2020, of March 14, declaring the state of alarm for the management of the health crisis situation caused by COVID-19], https://www.boe.es/eli/es/rd/2020/03/14/463 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Spanish Government website (2020), “COVID-19 en España” [COVID-19 in Spain], https://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/covid-19/Paginas/index.aspx (accessed 4 June 2020).

Turkey, e-communications: Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK)

For maintaining the current level, quality and safety of the electronic communications services in Turkey during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) and Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure of Turkey took a number of measures in co-ordination.

Within this context, operators of public electronic communications networks and services are asked to take all the necessary measures regarding:

  • Service continuity and personnel backup,

  • Safe distance working rules,

  • Potential increase in traffic due to social distancing, e-learning and remote work.

Operators are also required to report their list of personnel travelling intercity in compulsory circumstances. These lists are shared with the relevant governmental institutions if necessary. In order to provide uninterrupted mobile communications, municipalities are officially asked to provide access to network equipment and new facilities sealed due to license issues.

To meet increased communication needs and use of mobile broadband due to the Covid-19 outbreak, subscribers who use distance education services are provided a 6 GB or 8 GB quota monthly free of charge. Additionally, a number of other free packages offering increased quotas have been offered to citizens and some specialised workers, e.g. health workers. Regarding the use of fixed broadband, it is planned to extend the duration of the existing wholesale campaign in order to offer certain entry level packages for more reasonable prices for those who have not received internet service until now or who have cancelled packages at least 3 months ago.

To increase transmission capacity, BTK decided to allocate the radio frequencies to the operators who provided minimum set of information and to require additional information later.

In response to requests by operators, BTK postponed the due dates of obligatory periodical reports. Additionally, for corporate services such as rental circuit and metro ethernet internet, it has been made possible to suspend service at a wholesale level without any monthly fee.

To enable uninterrupted communication for consumers/operators, and prevent any unfair treatment, the following decisions are taken by the BTK Board:

  • The incumbent operators offering wholesale services have been instructed to provide electronic communication services without interruption, to repair breakdowns quickly, and to take necessary measures to increase capacity if necessary, within the scope of all reference access and interconnection offers approved by BTK.

  • Operators are obliged to take measures, where technically possible, to provide flexible working practices such as work from home or distance for call centre facilities.

  • Operators are obliged to work on practices in favour of consumers such as providing discounted/free voice, message and data benefits, flexibility in bill payments without penalties.

  • Operators may be exempt from sending printed bills on condition that bill information is provided to consumers via SMS or electronic mail.

  • Besides using secure electronic signature for contracts through the e-Government Gateway, operators may use/promote alternative methods such as contracts from home without need for consumers to go to dealership offices.

In the field of digital security, measures are also taken by BTK and Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure due to increased risks during the pandemic. A number of security measures are determined and electronic communications operators have been informed of their responsibilities in order to provide business continuity, accessibility and protection of consumers. The security measures cover:

  • Personnel and system backup procedures,

  • Business continuity principles,

  • Network management for high volume traffics,

  • Customer services and dealership activities.

Continuity of distance education services are monitored and traffic related to service quality is reported to National Cyber Incidents Response Centre (USOM (TR-CERT)), which is operating 7/24 within BTK, daily.

Furthermore, malwares, phishing attacks and other cyber threats exploiting the trend of the COVID-19 subject are analysed by TR-CERT in coordination with over 1300 cyber incidents response teams (SOME). Command and control centres and malicious links of these cyber threats are determined and prevented in order to protect our citizens. Within this scope, cyber intelligence reports are prepared and shared with relevant parties.

Regarding safety of staff, in order to minimise contact among the staff and with citizens, the majority of the staff working in the BTK Headquarters, regional offices and call centres are permitted to work remotely and shifts with minimum numbers of staff have been planned to monitor physical documents and urgent cases at offices. In addition, all overseas assignments are suspended.

United Kingdom, e-communications: Office of Communications (Ofcom)

Ofcom’s COVID-19 response is focusing on:

  • Consumer protection, in particular for vulnerable consumers, which now includes those in self-isolation and businesses and tips for consumers to protect their broadband and mobile connection.

  • Network resilience, working with providers to ensure continued service delivery as demand increases.

  • A communications campaign against disinformation on the claimed linkages between 5G and coronavirus.

Ofcom has introduced a number of regulatory easements, many of which have not required changes to regulation, instead taking a pragmatic approach in the interpretation and application of regulations.

Consultation with stakeholders has intensified: Ofcom has held more roundtable meetings between the regulator, government and industry in the crisis period than in the preceding six months.

Ofcom has also collaborated with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to agree on commitments for telecoms providers to protect vulnerable consumers during the crisis.

The regulator’s work programme has not fundamentally changed but is being re-phased to take account of internal resource constraints and external stakeholders’ limited ability to respond to consultations and to engage with the regulatory policy debate. New consultations and information requests that had been put on hold for a limited period in order to reduce regulatory burden, have been restarted after a period of suspension. Ofcom is carefully prioritising any new work.

Additional references:

Ofcom (2020), How broadband and mobile firms are serving customers during the coronavirus pandemic https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/features-and-news/broadband-and-mobile-firms-commit-helping-customers-during-coronavirus (accessed 4 June 2020).

Ofcom (2020), Support materials for consumers under its Making Sense of Media work, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/media-literacy-research/coronavirus-resources (accessed 4 June 2020).

Ofcom (2020), Tackling disinformation about 5G, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/features-and-news/ofcom-update-on-5g-vandalism (accessed 4 June 2020).

Ofcom (2020), Practical guides for consumers, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/advice/improve-bb-speeds-at-home; and https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/advice/improving-indoor-coverage (accessed 4 June 2020).

UK Gov (2020), Joint statement between Ofcom and the telecoms industry on support for vulnerable consumers, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-agrees-measures-with-telecoms-companies-to-support-vulnerable-consumers-through-covid-19 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Ofcom (2020), “Seven Tips to Stay Connected”, Advice for consumers for ensuring broadband and mobile networks, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/advice-for-consumers/stay-connected (accessed 23 July 2020).

United Kingdom, energy: Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem)

Ofgem’s core objectives in its response to Covid-19 have been ensuring protection of consumers, continuity of supply, and safety of the workforce and consumers. Ofgem’s response comprised two phases.

Initial responses sought to ensure customers were protected and security of supply maintained. This included issuing guidance to suppliers to make it clear it expects customer protection to be the first priority, and to provide information on issues like conditions for home visits.

Ofgem is involved in ongoing work to ensure domestic consumers – especially those in vulnerable situations – are supported, and Ofgem worked with the government and other organisations to deploy early interventions. For example, Ofgem supported the government in its March 2020 emergency package, which included agreed principles with energy suppliers to identify and prioritise consumers at risk, and to support financially impacted consumers and those on prepayment meters. Ofgem has also worked to allow up to GBP 10 million of the Energy Redress Scheme - administered by the Energy Savings Trust - funding to be prioritised for charities providing prepayment meter fuel vouchers.

Ofgem has said beyond the Covid-19 response, it will prioritise delivering its statutory obligations and progressing time-critical work, covering the period until 30 June 2020. (List of re-prioritised projects and work streams: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/publications-and-updates/ofgem-information-energy-licensees-coronavirus-covid-19-response). The regulator informed industry that it will be pragmatic in its approach to compliance during this period, and companies should not be afraid to do the right thing for their customers. It has also balanced new requests for data reporting with more flexibility in timelines and deprioritising other data requests so as not to increase the overall burden.

Currently, all regulatory requirements remain in place for all licensees. Ofgem has published a framework on regulatory flexibility for its wholesale energy and retail suppliers that outlines expectations on networks/suppliers for what is high priority now and must be delivered, and what can be deprioritised if necessary. This includes changes to network price control processes to allow flexibility, for example on regulatory reporting deadlines, to enable network companies to focus on prioritising meeting customer needs, maintaining security of supply, and ensuring the safety and protection of their workforces. In this way, Ofgem has been able to adapt regulatory practices without issuing new regulations.

In the meantime, Ofgem continues to monitor the market closely and engage with stakeholders to understand if any other actions are needed.

In the second phase, Ofgem will continue to focus on the core objectives of its response to the pandemic by ensuring that companies are able to continue meeting customer needs, even as they adapt to some of the financial strains caused by the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

The regulator will be taking action in three areas:

1. Network charge deferral: To mitigate short-term cash-flow challenges, Ofgem asked energy networks to develop a support scheme where they will consider requests from non-investment grade (smaller and medium sized) energy suppliers for flexibility on their network charges. This is intended to be focused, time-limited, and capped support for individual suppliers that need it, and don’t have access to other forms of finance. Ofgem set out in an open letter that it would expect suppliers to only access such schemes as a last resort, and it cannot be used by suppliers who have an investment grade credit rating and can therefore be reasonably expected to be able to access alternative sources of liquidity outside these schemes. Ofgem will monitor uptake carefully to mitigate the risk of abuse.

2. Raising standards as we move closer to a business as usual regulatory framework: As companies adjust to new working practices and the government eases some restrictions on lockdown, companies’ operational capacity will increase. The regulator expect companies to be ambitious in restoring normal standards of customer service and business-as-usual activities as quickly as possible. It will publish guidance setting out which regulatory requirements (temporarily eased in the wake of the crisis) are being re-introduced.

3. The price cap: Around 15 million households are protected by the default tariff and prepayment meter price cap. Ofgem updates the cap twice a year so that it reflects the underlying costs of supplying energy. There is a mechanism for bad debt costs within the price cap methodology; however, some suppliers have asked Ofgem to adjust for any potential increase in the future as a result of Covid-19. Ofgem published an open letter explaining that while it does not have sufficient evidence to justify this for the next 6-month price cap period starting in October, if in the future it sees a significant increase in these costs, Ofgem will take this into account.

Additional references:

Ofgem (2020), COVID-10 website, https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19 (accessed 4 June 2020).

Ofgem (2020), Advice for energy consumers, https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-and-your-energy-supply (accessed 4 June 2020):

  • Includes advice to consumers on whether their supply will be affected, visits to their homes, advice on using pre-payment meters and broader affordability issues.

Ofgem (2020), Information for energy licensees and industry, https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-information-energy-licensees-and-industry (accessed 4 June 2020).

  • Expectations around licensee behaviour at this time, consumer protection, and open letters to network and supply companies setting out the framework for regulatory flexibility.

United Kingdom, transport: Office of Rail and Road (ORR)

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) managed to ensure its own business continuity in response to the crisis, and its focus is on ensuring this business continuity for rail operators as well. It paused certain research and information requests, and indicated it would be more flexible in its enforcement of certain regulatory requirements, which it managed to do so within the framework of the existing legislation.

From its role to enforce competition law in the rail sector, the ORR took a more flexible approach to some instances of cooperation between businesses, in case this is necessary and appropriate to ensure the continuity of the delivery of services and maintain access for workers in critical sectors.

The ORR takes into account the effects on worker safety and vulnerable consumers due to the pandemic, and issued guidance on safe ways of travelling and operating transport services on its website.

Additional reference:

ORR (2020), “Coronavirus advice”, https://orr.gov.uk/coronavirus-advice (accessed 4 June 2020).

Contact

Anna Pietikainen (✉ anna.pietikainen@oecd.org)

Notes

← 1. The values reflect the arrangements in place as of 1 January 2018. Out of the 37 OECD member countries, the Indicators cover respectively 36 countries for energy, 35 for e-communications, 34 for rail transport, 30 for air transport and 18 for water.

← 2. Full references and more details on the approaches and actions by regulators mentioned throughout the brief can be found in agency-specific summaries in Annex.

← 4. On Removing administrative barriers, improving regulatory delivery; on The use of new technologies to expand regulatory capacity; on The use of regulatory management tools and the role of regulatory oversight; on Behavioural insights; and the current paper.

← 5. The OECD Best Practice Principles for Regulatory Policy: the Governance of Regulators (OECD, 2014[23]) outlines seven principles: role clarity; preventing undue influence and maintaining trust; decision making and governing body structure for independent regulators; accountability and transparency; engagement; funding; performance evaluation.

Disclaimer

This paper is published under the responsibility of the Secretary-General of the OECD. The opinions expressed and the arguments employed herein do not necessarily reflect the official views of OECD member countries.

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