Modern communication is expected to be swift, seamless and above all secure. Controlling and monitoring the transmission of digital communications from one user to another is a hefty responsibility that requires regularisation.

The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) is made up of a board of experts in the digital communications field led by Jeremy Godfrey, and is responsible for the standardisation of regulations in the European Union.

For the past year, Mr Godfrey has acted as chairman to the legislative body and by means of his 30 years of experience gained as an industry executive, business consultant and government official in the ICT sector, has led the 2019 BEREC team to great success.

BEREC is responsible for the European Framework that works on developing better functioning of the internal market for electronic communications networks and services. It is established by Regulation of the European Parliament and ensures a consistent application of the EU regulatory framework, by aiming to deliver quality services to its consumers.

“BEREC is a collaboration between regulatory authorities that circulates its knowledge from the body of experts in the European Parliament to a body of experts in every European member state. In Malta our communication is with the Malta Communications Authority,” commented Mr Godfrey in his explanation of BEREC’s contribution to the telecommunications sector.

“Let’s take ‘Roam Like at Home’, the borderless network service, as an example. What BEREC does is produce guidelines approved by the European Parliament for services like ‘Roam Like at Home’ and ensure that all details are accessible to EU member states. We do this while ensuring that privacy, consistency and overall guidelines are followed and respected in every member state so as to create a fair playing field. Open internet is another service that is taken very seriously in the EU.

“Ultimately, we have the same tools in every member state, we have the same guidelines, but how we use these tools is different, and that depends on a number of points such as city structure, population density, physical infrastructure of a city and other factors. It’s clear to say that the EU takes privacy very seriously and has some of the best laws to protect its users,” he continued, as he explained the local context in more detail.

“EU cities are as well served as anywhere in the world, when it comes to cost, speed and service. In fact, Malta has the most widespread broadband coverage in the European Union.”

This comment took us to questioning why BEREC decided to hold their event in Malta and what exactly their agenda was for the 2019 programme.

“We hold quarterly events every year – this year took us to Crete, Budapest, Ghent and finally Malta. I think you learn more about the telecommunications industry when you rotate from one European member state to another, and this time round it was Malta’s turn.”

This year, the MCA proudly hosted the 41st BEREC Plenary and the 4th IRG General Assembly. Here, members of several European communication authorities met on December 5 and 6 to learn about the regulatory consistencies and the implementation of electronic communications legislative framework achieved by BEREC in 2019.

During the BEREC Plenary meeting, the results of the study on determinants of investment in Very High Capacity Networks as well as a report on the outcomes of the Call for Input (CFI) to BEREC’s reports on “the impact (of) 5G on regulation”, were discussed.

Mr Godfrey added that the work programme would tackle the question of adequate broadband as well as the best practices required for 2020, from the first to the fourth quarter.

“Deciding what ‘adequate’ and ‘best’ actually mean for the forthcoming months holds quite a reasonable amount of responsibility. Matters change daily, if not more often in the digital age and BEREC’s overall role in the telecommunications world is to provide a consistent source of information that’s reliable and accurate.

“In 2020, BEREC will introduce a new chairman to the Regulatory Body – this expert’s role will be to develop a new legislation for the 2020 to 2021 build-up, as I am doing now for the 2019 to 2020 cross-over.

“This new focus will always keep public safety and health risks in mind, ensuring that radio emissions are well below maximum exposure limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO),” said Mr Godfrey, referring to the topic of 5G radiation, its effect on public health and the impact it has on nature.

“As far as I am aware, the exposure standards, set by radio and health experts (ICNIRP) are safe. At BEREC we ensure that all advancements are scientifically established to the highest safety standards, we make sure that all standards are followed and we further check that all regulations are abided to as time goes by. It goes without saying that BEREC as a regulator will be very busy in the coming months.”

Some of the matters that BEREC will deal with in the coming months include the Digital Services Act where online platforms will be focused on as a whole so as to prevent any unnecessary harm to end users.

“The growing sense that social and online platforms have great power and need to take more responsibility of their content is a pressing topic for BEREC. A code of practice could be the solution. Specific rules could be set for online platforms to operate and users should be able to access easy reporting systems where malicious or improper content is shared online. Cyber security is also an issue that will need to be re-addressed in 2020 – this is a factor that will never fall off the priority list.”

But here, a tricky situation creeps in too – while regulators and digital tech companies need to come together to provide the safest of environments for their online users, creating new regulations to protect the public, innovation and freedom of speech needs to be respected across EU member states.

“Defining the boundaries of free speech is a challenge. The time-consuming system of a regulatory board needs to speed up drastically to catch up with the lightning speed of digital innovation.”

Mr Godfrey’s term as chairman will come to an end as the new year rolls in. He will take on an ambassadorial role of vice chair and with that reassure the people of the brilliant work BEREC’s heads, experts and co-chairs do, claiming that he “never had a moment of doubt” that their regulatory body will succeed.

“This year, we’ve thrown the ball right up in the air, we’ve thrown it way up there – the next chair just needs to catch it.”

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