Access to emergency services

The two types of emergency services 

The Electronic Communications Act (Act of 13 June 2005 on electronic communications) makes a distinction between the following two types of emergency services:

  • Emergency services providing on-site assistance, including: 
     
    • the emergency medical service (100 and 112);
    • the fire services (100 and 112);
    • the police services (101 and 112);
    • the civil protection (100 and 112).
       
  • Emergency services providing remote assistance, including: 
     
    • the poison centre (070 245 245);
    • the centres for suicide prevention (0800 32 123, 02 649 95 55 and 1813);
    • the Teleonthaal/Téléaccueil centres (106, 107 and 108);
    • the children telephone services (102, 103 and 104);
    • the European centre for missing and sexually abused children (110 and 116 000).

Obligations for private network operators  

Operators of electronic communications networks which are not publicly available but which allow calls to public networks must provide access to emergency services through emergency numbers (Article 107(2) of the Electronic Communications Act).

Obligations for operators providing number-based interpersonal electronic communications services

The main obligations of operators providing number-based interpersonal electronic communications services and allowing end-users to call a number in the national or international numbering plan are the following:

  • For calls to the emergency services (providing on-site or remote assistance): 
     
    • enabling end-users to call emergency services free of charge and without interruption (Article 107(1) and (3) of the Electronic Communications Act); 
    • giving emergency communications to emergency services priority on their communications networks and services (Article 105/1 of the Electronic Communications Act) and providing the same priority to these services regarding the elimination of defects (Article 105/2 of the Electronic Communications Act); 
    • notifying the BIPT of any incident which has an impact on the network and is affecting access to emergency services over this network (Article 107/3(2) of the Electronic Communications Act);
       
  • For calls to the emergency services providing on-site assistance: 
     
    • directing the call to the most appropriate PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point, i.e. the call centre of the emergency services), i.e. the one responsible for the geographical area from where the emergency call originates (Article 107(3) of the Electronic Communications Act);
    • providing the emergency services, during the call, with the location of the caller as well as his or her last name and first name (Article 107(4) of the Electronic Communications Act); 
    • creating a central number database in which operators centralise subscriber data and linking it to PSAPs, so as to provide these PSAPs with subscriber data for each emergency call received (Art. 106/2 of the Electronic Communications Act); 
    • cancelling, free of charge and insofar as technically possible, the temporary refusal or lack of consent of the subscriber or end-user to the processing of location data per separate line (Article 123(5) of the Electronic Communications Act);   
    • before a consumer or end-user who is a micro-enterprise, a small enterprise, a non-profit micro-organisation or a small non-profit organisation is bound by a contract or by an offer of the same type, communicating to him or her any constraints on access to emergency services or caller location information for lack of technical possibility (Article 108(1), subparagraph 2, 3°, a), of the Electronic Communications Act);  
    • publishing for consumers and end-users, per service, transparent, comparable, clear, complete and up-to-date information on access to emergency services and caller location, or any limitation on the latter (Article 111(1), subparagraph 1, 2°, f) of the Electronic Communications Act); 
    • as regards operators offering mobile services only, allowing, among others, deaf or hard of hearing persons or those suffering from any other disability such as to prevent a voice call, to reach these emergency services by SMS (Article 107(6) of the Electronic Communications Act);   
    • reimbursing to theses emergency services, via a fund administered by the BIPT, certain costs these emergency services have incurred (Article 107/1 of the Electronic Communications Act);  
       
  • for calls to emergency services providing remote assistance: providing them with the calling line identification free of charge, in order to be able to handle emergency calls and combat malicious calls, even if the user has taken steps to prevent the identification from being sent (Article 107(5) of the Electronic Communications Act). 

Obligations for operators providing number-independent interpersonal electronic communications services (for instance Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or Signal)

Operators providing number independent interpersonal electronic communications services have no obligation to provide access to emergency services. However, should they do it, they must: 

  • meet the same obligations as operators providing number-based interpersonal electronic communications services (see above), and; 
  • publish for consumers and end-users, per service, transparent, comparable, clear, complete and up-to-date information on the extent to which access to emergency services can be provided (Article 111(1), 2°, g) of the Electronic Communications Act). 

Contact between emergency services and operators 

The BIPT facilitates, by means of the unified notification platform (see section “Practical Information”), the possibility for emergency services providing on-site assistance to contact an operator in the event of technical difficulties during the emergency call.

Prohibition for any person 

The use of cryptography cannot prevent emergency communications, including the identification of the calling line or the provision of caller identification data (art. 107/5(2) of the Electronic Communications Act). 

The BIPT’s mission and the legal framework

The BIPT is responsible for: 

  • managing the fund for emergency services providing on-site assistance; 
  • monitoring compliance with the legislation and sanctioning any infringements. 

In addition to the above-mentioned articles of the Electronic Communications Act, the following articles of these Act are also applicable: 

  • Article 2 includes useful definitions in this matter: interpersonal electronic communications services (5/2°), number-based interpersonal electronic communications services (5/3°), calling line identification (56°), caller identification (57°), emergency service (58°), emergency number (59°), emergency communication (60°), PSAP (61°), area of activity of a PSAP (62°), most appropriate PSAP (62/1°);  
  • Article 121/4(2) provides that the BIPT shall take all necessary measures to ensure that disabled end-users have access to emergency services at a level equivalent to that enjoyed by the other end-users via technical means adapted to their disability. This provision was implemented in the BIPT Council Decision of 28 March 2013 concerning the publication by operators of information on products and services destined for users with a disability

The implementing measures for the applicable provisions of the Electronic Communications Act are the following: 

Implemented article of the Electronic Communications Act Title of the implementing act
106/2 Royal Decree of 10 February 2022 on the central number database
107 Royal Decree of 2 February 2007 concerning emergency services
Royal Decree of 27 April 2007 pertaining to provisions regarding the provision of location data for emergency calls from mobile networks
Ministerial Order of 4 June 2007 laying down the administrative and technical measures in order to enable emergency services providing remote assistance to combat malicious calls
Ministerial Order of 5 March 2014 laying down the technical solution that operators providing or reselling 2G mobile services have to implement so that the emergency services providing on-site assistance can be reached by means of text messages
107/1 Royal Decree of 2 April 2014 laying down the operating conditions of the fund for emergency services providing on-site assistance
Royal Decree of 2 April 2014 laying down the conditions for the reimbursement of any overcompensation by the fund for emergency services providing on-site assistance
Royal Decree of 2 April 2014 laying down the principles based on which the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications checks and approves the calculation and the amount of the costs for which a reimbursement has been claimed from the fund for emergency services providing on-site assistance
107/3(2) The Decision of 14 December 2017 requires telecom operators to notify the BIPT of any security incident affecting access to emergency services

Public warning system

At the request of a mayor, a provincial governor or the competent authority of the Brussels conurbation under Article 48 of the Special Act of 12 January 1989 on Brussels institutions, or the minister in charge of Internal Affairs, the operators providing mobile number-based interpersonal communications services must send messages to the population to alert it in case of imminent danger or in the event of a major disaster and to inform it in order to limit the impact.

The applicable legal framework in this matter is the following: Article 106/1 of the Electronic Communications Act and its implementing Royal Decree, i.e. the Royal Decree of 23 February 2018 on the sending of a short text message in case of imminent danger or in the event of a major disaster.

Documents

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