Property

Electronic Communications Code: what’s changing

Earlier this year, the government consulted on changes to the Electronic Communications Code.

Background

The code regulates the rights of telecommunications operators to install and maintain apparatus on public and private land.

The government believes changes are needed to:

  • improve litigation procedures
  • ease the difficulties raised by site providers that block the progress of installing and keeping apparatus on public and private land

The consultation identified three problem areas:

  • obtaining and using code agreements
  • rights to upgrade and share
  • renewal of expired agreements

The consultation closed on 24 March 2021.

Read our joint response with the City of London Law Society

The government has now analysed the feedback and published its outcome overview.

The government’s response

The government plans to introduce primary legislation making changes to the code “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

It says the planned changes will:

  • support the installation, maintenance and upgrading/sharing of apparatus
  • facilitate faster and more collaborative negotiations between operators and site providers, while balancing the public interest in having improved digital connectivity with private property rights

There were 1266 responses to the consultation, largely from landowners, the general public, telecoms operators and professional bodies.

Our view

We welcome the review of the code in light of the identified issues.

However, we’re concerned that the proposals focus more on treating the symptoms of problems rather than examining the root causes.

We recognise the appropriateness of suggesting faster and more effective dispute resolution procedures, but this does not address the causes giving rise to the prevalence of disputes between operators and site providers.

In our view, the code formulae interfere too much with market forces.

Improvement of dispute resolution procedures and adjustment of some code provisions will only provide part of the answer.

What this means for solicitors

The changes are mainly relevant to commercial property lawyers.

Next steps

We’ll continue to:

  • monitor and engage with government’s work on the code
  • update you as and when legislation is brought forward to effect the changes

Thank you to those who fed into our response.

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