ECC consultation period opens in UK

Matt Warman DCMS minister.jpg

Industry has until 24 March to comment on proposed changes to the UK's Electronic Communications Code (ECC).

The ECC is the legal framework underpinning rights to install and keep electronic communications apparatus on public and private land, and to carry out other activities needed to provide electronic communications networks.

Initiating the consultation process yesterday the UK Government's Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) said it has identified three "main problem areas": issues relating to obtaining and using code agreements; rights to upgrade and share; and difficulties specifically relating to the renewal of expired agreements.

In his opening letter, minister for digital infrastructure Matt Warman (pictured) wrote: "It is essential that telecommunications operators can keep pace with the growing demand for internet bandwidth and mobile data from local businesses, residents and those who visit our communities. To achieve this we need a supportive legislative framework, which makes the roll-out of digital infrastructure smoother, allowing us to meet our ambition of achieving nationwide gigabit-capable connectivity as soon as possible."

Warman's own figures confirmed that currently 36.6% of UK premises can benefit from "gigabit-capable" broadband. The figure has improved since 2018, when it stood at 6%, however, such pace will do little to support the 85% coverage by 2025 target.

The target was revised down from 100% in the November spending review, and has been thrown into doubt again this month.

Of the UK's total landmass, 91% is covered by "a good 4G signal from at least one operator", an increase of 11% since 2017, while 69% of the country is covered by all four main operators, up from 49% in 2017.

Warman said that based on feedback received since the last reforms in 2017, "we recognise that updates may be needed if the aim and ambition of the 2017 reforms is to be realised fully".

Welcoming the consultation period, Gareth Williams, CEO at Gigaclear said: “Securing access to land in a reasonable timeframe, especially in rural areas, is one of the biggest obstacles to connecting historically underserved areas of the UK to gigabit-capable fibre broadband. The pandemic has sharply underlined the importance of fast, reliable connectivity and so we welcome all efforts that seek to provide this service to as many households and businesses as possible.

“At present, land access negotiations can go on for many months, which can cause delays that have a knock-on effect across entire network build footprints. We then support the Government’s commitment to reviewing this area of legislation and will of course respond," Williams added.