The Electronic Communications Code (the "Code") regulates dealings between network operators and site providers in the UK and underpins agreements for operators to have and maintain electronic communications apparatus on land and property. The Code is over 30 years old and is notorious for its complexity and opaqueness. Given the technological advances since it was implemented in 1984, it is significantly out of date and, for a number of reasons, entirely unsuitable for the 21st century. The Government has acknowledged the need for the Code to be reformed and has published a draft new Code which is currently due to be implemented in July of this year.
A driving force behind the implementation of the new Code is the Government's desire to increase investment in digital infrastructure to achieve a more sustainable, robust and technologically advanced network. The aim is to help network operators extend coverage, improve connectivity and allow better quality of service for consumers.
The current draft of the new Code includes changes to:
- The way that land is valued for the purpose of determining an appropriate rental fee. These changes make the valuation process more favourable to the operator;
- Give automatic rights for operators to upgrade and share electronic communication apparatus at no additional charge where there is minimal adverse visual impact or burden on land owners;
- The procedures for terminating code agreements.
It is proposed that Code rights will continue to apply to land when it is bought and sold, without any requirement to register those rights, and that parties will not be able to contract out of the new Code provisions. The new Code will apply in full to all agreements entered after its implementation and there are transitional provisions contained in the new Code as to its applicability to existing agreements.
If you are considering entering into a new agreement with an electronic communications operator now, or an existing agreement with an electronic communications operator is due to expire shortly (or has already expired), we suggest that you take legal advice as to the effects of the new Code and whether there are any steps you should be taking in advance of it. Even if you do not think that the above situations apply to you, perhaps this is a good opportunity to undertake a review of any electronic communications apparatus on your property and the basis on which they are occupying.