On 13 January 2015, the Government announced that amendments to the Infrastructure Bill, which is currently before the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons, have been proposed that would introduce a new Electronic Communications Code (“the new code”).
The current Electronic Communications Code (“the Code”) is set out in Schedule 2 to the Telecommunications Act 1984, as amended by Schedule 3 to the Communications Act 2003 and has been described by Lord Justice Lewison as “one of the least coherent pieces of legislation on the statute book”. The Code facilitates the installation and maintenance of electronic communications networks and gives rights to the providers of such networks, A report published by the Law Commission in February 2013 made recommendations as to how the Code should be revised following a consultation period, essentially suggesting that the Code should be completely overhauled and re-written.
If the new code is approved by Parliament, it will be included as a new Schedule to the Communications Act 2003 and will follow the Law Commission’s advice in being written in clear and modern language and style and dealing with the contradictions and uncertainties caused by the current Code.
In the form currently drafted, the new code will include the following changes to the Code:
- Clarification of the procedure to be followed by a landowner exercising their right to require the removal of electronic communications apparatus from their land.
- Amendments to section 23 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 (LTA 1954) to exclude tenancies that have the primary purpose of granting rights under the Code from the security of tenure provisions of the LTA 1954. A telecommunications provider will not be able to rely on both rights under the Code and rights of renewal under the LTA 1954 in order to avoid a landowner taking back possession once the telecommunications agreement between the parties has expired.
- Adding code rights (other than those conferred by a lease) to the lists of ‘overriding interests’ in Schedules 1 and 3 to the Land Registration Act 2002.
These long-awaited revisions to the Code are unexpectedly being introduced in the late stages of the Parliamentary process in relation to the Infrastructure Bill and so the property and telecoms industries and land owners will be keen to review the detail of the new code when it is finalised. However, there will likely be a consensus that the reforms are welcomed by all parties and should lead to a more transparent and coherent understanding of the law relating to telecommunications.