The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has detailed how the government plans to bring the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) into UK law, claiming that the legislative changes will ‘boost gigabit broadband rollout and bring better mobile coverage to the whole of the UK’. In a press release regarding the matter, the DCMS noted that – while the EECC largely consists of minor changes to the existing legal framework – the government intends to introduce some new pro-investment measures from the Code that it considers are ‘in the UK’s national interest’ and support the state’s plans for nationwide gigabit broadband. Meanwhile, it said other measures will provide greater consumer protection and ensure Ofcom’s regulatory powers are up to date.
With regards to Ofcom’s powers specifically, the DCMS noted that the changes to legislation will include: new powers for the watchdog to gather information on operators’ planned network rollouts; and a new ‘broad duty’ for Ofcom to promote connectivity, access to, and take-up of gigabit-capable networks. Further, in areas where it is costly or difficult to install new networks, Ofcom will have the power to impose obligations on operators already present to offer network access or share equipment. Meanwhile, Ofcom’s market review period will be increased from three to five years, with it claimed that this change ‘will give a longer period of regulatory stability to the telecoms market and more certainty for investors in gigabit broadband’.
Further to the above, the DCMS also confirmed that it is taking forward proposals designed to simplify planning rules, with a view to speeding up the rollout of 5G connectivity and allowing for improvements to rural mobile coverage. Reformed planning laws in England will reportedly allow mobile network operators (MNOs) to put more equipment than they currently can on phone masts, making it easier to share masts and increase mobile coverage areas. Moreover, the reforms will also permit: new masts to be taller, subject to prior approval by the planning authority; existing phone masts to be strengthened without prior approval, so that they can be upgraded for 5G and shared between MNOs; building-based masts to be placed nearer to highways, to support better mobile coverage of the UK’s road networks, subject to prior approval; and cabinets containing radio equipment to be deployed alongside masts, without prior approval, to support new 5G networks. Before amending the existing legislation, the government has, however, confirmed it intends carry out a technical consultation on the detail of these proposals.
Finally, the DCMS has noted that it plans to consult on changes to the Electronic Communications Code, which is separate from the EECC, and is the domestic legal framework underpinning agreements between landowners and communications operators in the UK. With the Code having been substantially reformed in 2017 to make it cheaper and easier for electronic communications apparatus to be deployed, maintained, shared and upgraded, the government wants to consider reforms to the Code ‘in due course’ that may be required to hopefully ensure such deployments can made quickly.