Media & Telecoms

Media
EU has passed several directives setting legislative framework for regulation of media services among which are the Audiovisual Media Service Directive and the Framework Directive 2002/21/EC that are of significant importance for the sector. Bulgaria, as part of the EU, transposed the directives into national legislation. In this regard, in order to comply with the Framework Directive 2002/21/EC, electronic communications and contents are governed by different legislative acts in Bulgaria, and namely- the Electronic Communications Act and the Radio and Television Act. As a consequece, different bodies are also responsible for supervising the compliance with the applicable legislation. In this regard, the Communications Regulation Commission implements the state sector policy in the field of telecommunications services. Communications Regulation Commission is a specialized independent state authority, entrusted with the functions of regulation and control over the carrying out of the electronic communications. Whereas, the Council for Electronic Media is an independent specialized body which regulates media services in Bulgaria.

Media Services;

The Radio and Television Act (referred as “RTA”), defines media services as audiovisual media services and radio services. Audiovisual media service/radio service means a service a which is under the editorial responsibility of a media service provider and the principal purpose of which is the provision of audiovisual programmes/radio programmes in order to inform, entertain or educate the general public by electronic communications networks. A media service provider may be a sole-trader natural person or a legal person who or which has editorial responsibility for the choice of the content of the media service and determines the manner in which the said service is organized. Under the Radio and Television Act, there are two categories of media service providers: public and commercial.

Under the RTA broadcasters may be entities registered under Bulgarian legislation, or entities registered under the legislation of EU Member State or of another state party to the EEAA. There is no legislative prohibition for foreigners to participate in broadcasting activities in Bulgaria provided that they perform this activity in one of the above mentioned forms. Thus, they must register an entity in Bulgaria or in a member state of the EU or EEA.

Bulgarian law does not provide special regulation in relation to the cross-ownership of media companies. The RTA, however, provides that national radio and television broadcasting licences shall not be granted to entities or their related parties that hold local or regional licences, except in the event that they relinquish said licences.

Licenses;

Radio and television broadcasting activities for the creation of programmes intended for distribution over electronic communications networks, where a scarce - radio spectrum is used is performed only on the basis of individual licenses issued for a period of 15 years, which may be further extended for up to 25 years. Licenses are issued by the Council for Electronic Media. Licenses are personal and can only be transferred upon permission of the Council for Electronic Media subject to satisfaction of the requirements to the persons for initial licensing. Licenses are issued upon submission of application by the candidate for license and when the respective accompanying documents are also submitted.

Licence for pursuit of radio and television broadcasting activities through use of existing and/or new electronic communications networks for analogue terrestrial broadcasting shall be granted after a contest is being held.

When radio frequency spectrum is needed for broadcasting, its availability is examined through coordination between the Council for Electronic Media and the Communications Regulation Commission and a tender procedure is only carried out for the issuance of a licence for broadcasting activities by the Council for Electronic Media .

Broadcasting through cable and satellite requires only registration made through an application submitted with the Communications Regulation Commission. Nonlinear services are subject to simple notification to the Council for Electronic Media. Licensing fees vary from € 564 to € 1,718 depending on the activity (radio or TV), the broadcasting level (local, regional or national) and the number of citizens in the area covered by the licensed or registered activity. In addition, there is an annual supervision fee of between € 1,026 and € 2,051. The annual licence fee is payable in four instalments due by 31 March, 30 June, 30 September and 30 November of the respective year. The licensing procedure usually takes about 10 month.

Content Requirement;

The programme services are in the official Bulgarian language, according to the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria. There are exceptions to this rule in case, for example, when the programme is distributed for educational purposes or it is intended for Bulgarian citizens whose mother tongue is other than the Bulgarian language.

Pursuant to the RTA, at least 50 per cent of the total annual programme time, except for news, sport programmes, radio and TVgames and markets, advertisements and teletext, must be intended for European productions, if this is practically possible, and at least 12 per cent of the total annual programme time must be intended for European productions created by foreign producers. The Council for Electronic Media maintains a public register for all undertakings broadcasting Bulgarian and foreign programmes. Undertakings that distribute Bulgarian and foreign programme services are obligated to provide the CEM, once every six months, with an updated list of the programme services distributed and the documents related to acquisition of the distribution rights for programme services and acquisition of the distribution rights for works, phonograms and recordings of audiovisual works included in the programme services that are distributed. Failure of undertakings to provide information in a timely fashion or provision of misleading or incomplete information is sanctioned with a property fine of BGN 3,000 to BGN 7,000. Distribution of programmes without duly established rights is sanctioned with a property fine of BGN 7,000 to BGN 30,000.

Advertising;

Broadcast media advertising and related prohibitions are regulated by a number of acts such as the RTA, ECA, Competition Protection Act (CPA), Consumer Protection Act, Health Act, Gambling Act and Religious Beliefs Act.
The following advertising is not allowed:

  • misleading and comparative advertising;
  • hidden advertising;
  • advertising based on pornography or discrimination, or advertising inciting violence or humiliation of human dignity;
  • advertising that uses state symbols such as the coat of arms or the hymn;
  • advertising that promotes behaviour which is harmful for health; or
  • advertising that poses a threat to citizens security.

Advertising must comply with the free competition requirements and the Commission for Protection of Competition strictly observes the adherence to this legal obligation. Advertising cigarettes and smoking is not permitted under Bulgarian legislation. Besides, advertising alcoholic beverages is subject to special regulations such as the direct advertising is prohibited while the indirect advertising may be  broadcasted only after 22 pm (excluding advertising of beer and wine).

Sector-specific laws provide additional restrictions. In addition to the restrictions, broadcasters have to comply with certain time limitations that refer to the length of the advertising and the admissible amount of interruption of a programme per hour. The same rules apply to online advertising.

Telecommunications

The Electronic Communications Act (referred as “ECA”) regulates electronic communications which are performed by conveyance, emission, transmission or reception of signs, signals, written text, image, sound or message of any nature by wire, radio waves, optical or other electromagnetic medium.

The state bodies competent in the electronic communications sector are the Council of Ministers, the National Radio Frequency Spectrum Council, the Minister of Transport, Information Technologies and Communications and the Communications Regulatory Commission.

The Bulgarian electronic communications market was liberalized upon the expiration of the Bulgarian Telecommunication Company monopoly over provision of fixed voice telecommunications services, leased lines and cross-border voice transfer on 1 January 2003. Since then, there are no services that are granted exclusively to one operator, nor is the number of licences limited.

Electronic communications are provided after notification and after the receipt of an authorization for use of an individually assigned scarce resource, complying with the requirements of the ECA. The Communications Regulation Commission grants an authorization for use of an individually assigned scarce resource - radio spectrum after conducting a contest or tender in the cases where the number of candidates is greater than the number of persons that are eligible to obtain an authorization for the relevant available scarce resource.

Telecoms;

There are no restrictions under the Bulgarian legislation as to the ownership of cable networks by telecoms operators.

Providers are free to negotiate access and interconnection and conclude agreements to that respect in writing. A copy of the executed agreement must be provided to the Communications Regulation Commission.  At its own discretion the Communications Regulation Commission may impose, maintain, amend or withdraw specific obligations on undertakings with SMP on a relevant market to provide efficient access, interconnection (or both) and interoperability of services in order to benefit end-users and encourage effective competition. The obligations may be imposed for the purposes of transparency, non-discrimination, accounting separation, access to and use of specific network facilities as well as price control and cost accounting obligations. If a transparency obligation is imposed together with a non-discrimination obligation, the Communications Regulation Commission may oblige the respective provider to publish a reference interconnection offer (RIO). The Communications Regulation Commission further approves the RIO or obliges the provider to amend it.

The Communications Regulation Commission may control the wholesale (interconnect) prices by issuing a decision to impose an obligation on a company with SMP.

The Communications Regulation Commission is entitled to resolve disputes between operators. Decisions of the Commission may be appealed before the Supreme Administrative Court within 14 days as of the date of notification of the interested parties.

Telecoms- mobile;

In cases where the provision of electronic communications services requires an individually assigned radio spectrum, permission has to be issued by the Communications Regulation Commission. Permission is granted to the operators on a competitive basis following a tender or an auction. Permissions are issued on non-competitive basis in a number of cases explicitly specified in the ECA:

  • for the needs of the state authorities;
  • for foreign diplomatic missions;
  • for carrying out electronic communication services for personal needs;
  • if the number of candidates is smaller or equal to the number of
  • persons that may be granted individual rights;
  • for the provision of electronic communications through analogue
  • terrestrial radio transmitters, following a decision of the CEM;and
  • temporary permission (for a term not longer than six months).

Radio frequency spectrum is assigned after a frequency planning, examination of the electromagnet compatibility and national and international coordination. According to the ECA, the number of the issued permissions for use of radio frequency spectrum could be restricted on grounds of effective spectrum usage, enhancing the advantages for consumers or promoting of competition. Additional individually assigned frequency resource could be granted only when operators have proven a necessity for extension, modernisation and development of their own electronic communication network, and the respective network allows it, and the assigned frequency spectrum has been already effectively utilised. Temporary permissions for use of radio frequency spectrum for a term no longer than six months may be granted by the Communications Regulation Commission for advertising, testing of new technicalequipment or newly established electronic communication networks before their actual putting into operation or for testing of new technical methods or technologies, as well as for short-term events.

The distribution of the radio frequency spectrum is set out in the National Plan for Distribution of Radio Frequency Spectrum to radio frequencies and radio frequency bands for civil needs, national security and defence needs, as well as for their joint usage (the National Frequency Plan). The National Frequency Plan is prepared by the Council for National Frequency Spectrum and adopted by the Council of Ministers following a specific procedure involving national and international coordination and harmonisation. The concrete allocation of radio spectrum and radio spectrum bands for civil needs is made after a public discussion. The assignment of unused radio spectrum is not subject to regulation. However, the policy in the sphere of electronic communications envisages further development of the existing legislation in order to ensure more flexible and effective usage of the radio frequency spectrum. The CRC might modify the conditions of the issued permission in cases of ineffective utilisation of the radio frequency assigned. The ECA contains a general provision that, with respect to the right to use radio frequencies and radio frequency bands, there are no restrictions regarding the type of services or used technologies. Each particular permission for use of individually assigned radio frequency specifies the type of service or electronic communication network or tehcnology for which the radio spectrum is assigned, the exact radio frequency assigned, the territorial range (if applicable) and the parameters for its effective utilisation. The allocation of radio spectrum frequencies for the needs of state authorities is set out in the National Frequency Plan but their assignment and use is not subject to regulation by the ECA.

Directly applicable in Bulgaria to the wholesale and retail charges of international mobile roaming is Regulation (EC) No. 544/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2009 amending Regulation (EC) No. 717/2007 on roaming on public mobile telephone networks within the Community and Directive 2002/21/EC. Recent changes in the ECA aimed at bringing it into conformity with the amended Regulation supplemented the variety of offences for which sanctions amounting up to 2 million leva may be imposed.

Currently, there are three mobile operators in Bulgaria and all of them operate operating under the GSM/ UMTS standard. A procedure for fourth operator has been launched. Mobile numbers are portable between the operators.