Have the Law Commission Cracked the Electronic Communications Code?

March 1, 2013

The Electronic Communications Code was enacted in 1984 to regulate landline telephone provision. Since then it has been adapted to help deliver broadband, mobile internet, cable TV, mobile phones and landlines to the whole of the UK. It governs the legal relationship between network providers and landowners.

The current Code has been criticised by the courts and the people who work with it as out of date, unclear and inconsistent with other legislation.

The Commission’s recommendations aim to bring clarity and certainty to landowners and network providers, enabling them to reach agreements more easily and quickly, saving them time, effort and money. The Commission states that its recommended reforms will:                      

·        provide a clearer definition of the market value that landowners can charge for the use of their land, giving them more confidence in negotiating and giving providers a better idea of what their network is likely to cost  

·        clarify the conditions under which the courts can order a landowner to give a network provider access to land, bringing more certainty to both landowners and providers and helping them to reach agreements more quickly  

·        resolve the inconsistencies between the current Code and other legislation  

·        clarify the rights of landowners to remove network equipment from land, and  

·        specify limited rights for operators to upgrade and share their network equipment. 

Professor Elizabeth Cooke, the Law Commissioner leading the project, says: ‘The Electronic Communications Code has been in operation for almost 30 years. It is complex, confusing and out of date. Landowners and network providers have told us that it doesn’t work for them, and it no longer serves the public who, today, quite reasonably expect to have access to modern communication technologies. The best, most effective elements of the Code encourage agreement between parties but its flaws leave landowners and network providers negotiating in the dark. Our reforms will help the parties to reach agreement more quickly and make swifter progress towards meeting society’s demand for mobile phone and broadband services.’

The Commission’s report, “The Electronic Communications Code”, is available on www.lawcom.gov.uk or can be downloaded from the panel opposite