New legislation to reform 30 year old code power system
Disruption is something the Internet has enabled massively in the last decade and the Government has recognised the need for the Electronic Communications Code to be revamped over thirty years since it was first created so that the disruptive reach of the Internet can make it to all corners of the UK. The original code in 1984 gave telecoms firms with code powers various rights over the access to land and other than some tweaks in 2003 have largely been unchanged since.
The changes should give telecoms and broadband infrastructure providers a basis to operate by that is similar to other utilities with the aim being to make rolling out new broadband infrastructure quicker and hopefully cheaper too. One area that has sometimes proven difficult is negotiations over extra charges as upgraded infrastructure is added to a site under the existing code powers - the new legislation means that charges for upgrades that are minimally invasive should be lower. Additionally and with the rise of the smaller FTTH operator it becomes very important, is that if an operator is purchased there will be no option for landlords to negotiate a new contract, i.e. the existing contract will simply transfer. If one thinks of the bigger picture, this was actually one of the major problems that would have faced any legal separation imposed on the BT Group with regards to Openreach, so one barrier to that happening in the future may be removed.
"We support reform of the Electronic Communications Code, as we set out in our digital communications review.
We welcome the Government's plans to make it easier for operators to roll out, maintain and upgrade their networks so they can serve customers better."Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive
For those with existing agreements in place under the current Code the new legislation when it comes into effect proposes that only as contracts are negotiated will the new rules apply - therefore it may take ten to fifteen years for all contracts to shift to the new rules. Over a 20 year period the estimate is that the new rules could provide for benefits of £1 billion over a 20 year period, with the hope that this will thus be used to help increase investment in infrastructure.
Of course none of this will happen overnight and while the new Code plans to introduce specialist dispute resolution courts rather than the slower current normal court system the new legislation still will still need to go through the full Parliamentary process before it is enshrined as a code that will hopefully be fit for the next few decades.