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It has been announced that the government is finally going to tackle reforming the Electronic Communications Code - the law which covers equipment used to transmit electronic communications, including mobile phone signals. This announcement follows a number of consultations on the current (and widely-criticised) Electronic Communications Code and the publication last year of a proposed revised code.
Mobile operators have been criticised for continuing poor coverage in some areas, but they argue that the current Code - which gives them rights to put equipment onto land including rooftops - works too slowly. They have also been putting pressure on the government to help them reduce costs, in return for investing substantial sums in improving coverage.
The current Code is also disliked by many property owners, who complain about the restrictions they suffer when an operator wants to put equipment onto their land or building. Developers in particular can lose valuable time since it is not uncommon for it to take around 18-24 months to secure the removal of electronic communications apparatus from a site due to the complexity of the legislation.
The government recognised some years ago that the Code - introduced during the privatisation of British Telecom in 1984 - needs to be brought up-to-date to reflect changes in technology and enable quicker roll-out of communications networks. However, the few efforts made during recent years to bring in a revised Code have failed to get off the ground.
This latest announcement signals that this failure may finally be addressed; the government has stated that legislative changes will be taken forward "at the earliest possible opportunity". However, the draft Bill previously published had a number of problems which did not find favour with mobile operators or property owners. There were particular concerns when the previous government tried to rush legislation through Parliament just before the 2015 General Election. Since then, both operators and property owners have called for a considered approach in order to achieve the delicate balance between their interests.
From the information published so far, the key changes are likely to be:
The existing Electronic Communications Code has caused real practical difficulties for mobile operators and property owners over decades. The government is understandably concerned that the current law is hampering the rollout of technology and limiting the ability of communications services to meet the needs of the digital era. However, there is an important balance to achieve between mobile operators and property owners and it remains to be seen whether the government will take their feedback on board or whether the replacement Code will simply lead to a new set of issues for argument - not to mention further delays in the rollout of technology and increasing costs for both sides.
This article was written by Emma Humphreys and Clare Fleming.
For more information, please contact Emma on +44 (0)20 7203 5326 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Clare on +44 (0)20 7203 5043 or email@example.com.