DCMS launches consultation on ECC changes

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has launched a consultation featuring several proposed changes to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC), some of which are targeted at improving the rollout of faster broadband, as well as mobile 4G and 5G.

The ECC, which was last reformed in 2017, is designed to facilitate the installation and maintenance of telecoms networks. The 2017 reforms, however, came in for criticism over the low payments made to land owners for access, as well as a tribunal process that has been subject to delays in reaching agreements.

The new consultation aims to improve this through three key areas. The first area is issues relating to obtaining and using code agreements, with failure to make agreements seen as a barrier to providing mobile coverage and gigabit-capable broadband in a timely manner, with completed agreements said to be inflexible to accommodate changes in circumstances.

The DCMS is proposing changes to support quicker, more collaborative negotiations, which encourage greater dialogue and adhering best practice guidance. This aims to efficiently deal with disagreements, address failures in responding to code rights requests and ensure effective final agreements.

Secondly, the DCMS proposes changes to clarify rights to upgrade and share apparatus in order to benefit connectivity. The consultation proposes to revisit automatic rights to share and upgrade in order to review when these rights should be available and how to clarify them; clarify the position where operators are seeking upgrade and share rights but don’t meet the conditions for automatic rights; and considering the benefit of introducing limited retrospective share/upgrade rights for apparatus that pre-dates 2017.

The final recommendation concerns expired code agreements. The DCMS says that operators and site providers require greater certainty regarding what happens when agreements end. The consultation also calls for greater consistency in how disagreements over renewals are dealt with, as well as calling for the legislative framework to encourage prompt, collaborative renewal negotiations and set measures for cases where agreements can’t be reached.

Minister for Digital Infrastructure Matt Warman says: “As part of our vision to level up the UK with better connectivity and faster broadband speeds, we’re looking at reforming the law so people can get the benefits of better connectivity as soon as possible.”

“We’re also investing £5.5 billion to roll out nationwide gigabit broadband and improve poor mobile coverage.”

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