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Ofcom Consult on Draft ECC Code to Help Boost UK Broadband Rollouts

Friday, March 24th, 2017 (9:27 am) - Score 786

Ofcom has published a Draft Code of Practice to support the Government’s proposed reforms to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which aim to make it easier and cheaper for network operators to roll-out new broadband and telecoms infrastructure (masts, cables etc.) on public and private land.

At present when a fixed line broadband or mobile operator wants to deploy a new network, particularly into rural areas, then this can often be hampered by an inability to reach a viable wayleave agreement for access to the land. Private landowners in particularly are usually opposed to anything that would result in them having less control over their land or reduced income from the rental paid by telecoms operators for allowing such access.

However deploying into rural areas with sparse communities is already very expensive and operators may struggle to develop a viable model. The Government are currently trying to encourage the spread of faster broadband and better mobile connectivity to rural areas, which means that they also have to make it easier and cheaper for infrastructure builders to construct new wireless masts, cable ducts and street cabinets etc.

In order to do that the Government must first reform the old Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which among other things governs the relationship between network operators and landowners. This is a process that started last spring (here) as part of the new 2017 Digital Economy Bill and in relation to that Ofcom has now published their first ECC Draft Code of Practice.

The purpose of this proposed Code of Practice is to set out expectations for the conduct of parties to agreements made under the New Code. It does not represent a guide to the New Code nor does it replace the provisions of the New Code. The code is also non-binding, in the sense that there is no statutory obligation on operators or landowners to comply with its provisions.

However Ofcom warns that it does expect the code to be followed and they note that future court cases may also take account of compliance with relevant codes of practice when assessing conduct in awarding costs. Otherwise the regulator, which has attempted to act as a “neutral facilitator” between the various land owners and network operators, intends to consult on the new code until 2nd June 2017.

Earlier this year the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents private land owners from across England and Wales, claimed that they would be willing to bend their opposition to some aspects of the new ECC but only if the Government “proves its commitment” to improving rural broadband connectivity (here).

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