UK government sets out plans to implement the European Electronic Communications Code by December

July 22, 2020

The UK government has set out its plans on implementing the European Electronic Communications Code. The Code was published in the Official Journal of the EU in December 2018. Member states, and the UK, have until 21 December 2020 to implement the provisions in domestic law. The transposition of the Directive provides an opportunity to introduce new provisions that will help facilitate the digital objectives set out by the government in the 2020 Budget and in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review. It will adopt a ‘copy out’ approach of the Code, amending UK legislation where needed to ensure consistency with the minimum requirements of the Code.

The Code creates a revised telecoms regulatory framework for the EU. Its core objectives are to:

  • drive investment in very high capacity networks and services through sustainable competition;
  • support efficient and effective use of radio spectrum frequencies;
  • maintain the security of networks and services; and
  • provide an improved level of protections for consumers.

While the Code largely consists of minor changes to the existing legal framework, the government says that it will introduce some new pro-investment measures from the Code that are in the UK’s national interest and support its plans for nationwide gigabit broadband. Other measures will give people and businesses greater consumer protection and ensure Ofcom’s regulatory powers are up to date.

Network forecasting

New powers will be given to Ofcom to gather information on operators’ planned network rollout. Ofcom will share this information with the government to allow better targeting of public investment in poorly-connected areas. It will also publish non-confidential data about where rollout is not planned to help inform industry investment.

A focus on gigabit-capable networks

Ofcom will have a new duty to promote connectivity, access to, and take-up of gigabit-capable networks.

Promoting cooperation and competition in hard to reach places

In areas where it is costly or difficult to install new networks, such as urban blocks of flats and rural locations, Ofcom will have the power to impose obligations on operators already present to offer network access or to share equipment such as mobile masts with other operators.

Pro-investment regulation

Ofcom’s market review period will be increased from three to five years which will give a longer period of regulatory stability to the telecoms market and more certainty for investors in gigabit broadband.

Easier switching for consumers

Currently, when switching broadband providers, consumers need to liaise with their old and their new provider and juggle the relevant old service end dates and the start dates for new services. Under these changes, they will be able to contact their new provider, who will lead and co-ordinate the switching process so it is as smooth as possible and with minimal loss of service.

Better regulation of bundles

Consumers on bundled contracts, which include mobile and broadband but also other services such as video and music streaming, will be able switch providers more easily. This means they will avoid being locked into bundled contracts if, for example, providers make changes to their contracts, or something goes wrong with just one service in the bundle.

The rules should be in force by December 2020. However, the government has indicated that it will  delay transposition of less significant rules and Ofcom also indicated in May that it will give providers more time to change systems etc due to the coronavirus outbreak.