Legislation barring Huawei 5G tech passes Riigikogu

A Riigikogu sitting in process.
A Riigikogu sitting in process. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A bill banning the use of mobile technology made by Chinese firm Huawei via Estonian networks has passed its third and final Rigiikogu reading, with 73 MPs voting in favor at the 101-seat chamber Wednesday. The bill also harmonizes consumer rights regulations between more traditional phone services and messaging services such as Whatsapp and Viber.

Two MPs voted against the bill, which will also open up the 5G frequency band up to market competition, while there was one abstention.

The bill, now the Electronic Communications Act, pending presidential assent, will transpose into domestic law the European Communications Directive and specifies the requirements for the use of hardware and software in communications networks in a way which does not endanger national security, BNS reports.

Amendments relating to the storage of communications data have been erased, with solutions on this issue now to be submitted separately by the Ministry of Justice.

The law will also amend the State Fees Act, in the area concerning  state fees for frequency authorizations and numbering authorizations, which will be synchronized with changes in the development of the communications market through the introduction of new state fees and phasing out of older ones.

The bill will increase consumer rights, it is claimed, in particular with the requirement to provide the pre-contractual information and the contract summary of the communications service contract.

With the first of these, the consumer is provided with as detailed an overview as possible of the communications service offered, with the intention of avoiding misunderstandings on the communications service as laid out in the contract vis-a-vis the service as provided in actuality.

In the second case, descriptions of the communications service, charges, durations, renewal and contract terminations will be provided.

In pursuit of a single EU communications market, rules for the deployment of radio frequency bands are being harmonized across the union.

The bill will also facilitate the deployment of small-area wireless access points, or small-cells, for construction works owned or used by the state or local authorities.

The bill's third reading was delayed somewhat after it was voted off Riigikogu's agenda in September, to avoid violating Riigikogu procedural technicalities.

It was later re-submitted to the Riigikogu with a new date of entry into force, December 15, 2021.

The deadline for the transposition of the EU law into the legislation of domestic member states was in fact December 21, 2020.

The bill's explanatory memorandum notes that, in connection with the rapid development of the electronic communications market, consumers' behavioral habits have changed since 2002, when the telecommunications market was liberalized and a new regulatory framework adopted in Estonia.

New data transmission-based Over The Top (OTT) services, such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook Messenger are used with increasing frequency, as an alternative to traditional phone and mobile phone services, and in order to ensure equitable protection of consumer rights OTT services will also be brought under the concept of communications service – in other words all communications companies operating in the communications market will be brought under the same regulation.

The Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition had drafted a regulation in 2020 which required high-risk technology to disappear by 2030, while the hardware and software used to build a 5G network would need to be risk-free by 2024.

Late on the previous year, then-prime minister Jüri Ratas (Center) and then-U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence agreed on a joint Estonian-U.S. approach to 5G and its security, aimed at essentially excluding Huawei, which has long had to face criticism over alleged backdoors in its tech which could permit Chinese government espionage.

Lithuanian authorities have even recommended discarding Huawei and other Chinese-made phones.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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