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Government withdraws plans to 'rush' new Electronic Communications Code into law

A revised Electronic Communications Code setting new rules governing the installation, maintenance and removal of electronic communications equipment from property will not now be implemented into UK law through the Infrastructure Bill.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has intervened to remove provisions from the proposed new Bill which would have introduced a revised Electronic Communications Code with the passing of the Bill.

"The existing telecommunications code will accordingly continue in effect," an explanatory statement to the Bill amendment said.

The move comes after the government came in for heavy criticism after proposing plans to include the revised Code in the Infrastructure Bill after the Bill had already passed through a number of stages of parliamentary scrutiny.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said "further time" is needed to ensure the revised Code meets the needs of telecoms operators, land owners and other stakeholders.

"After careful consideration and representation from various stakeholders, the government has decided to withdraw the tabled Electronic Communications Code from the Infrastructure Bill," the spokesperson said.

"The outdated Code is a complex, technical piece of legislation and it was always going to be a challenge to reform. That’s why we based our planned reforms on the Law Commission’s recommendations. However it is clear we need to take the further time to ensure a reformed Code works for all parties. The government remains committed to delivering this at the earliest opportunity. All four mobile operators are clear this won't affect the landmark deal to deliver 90% coverage by 2017," it said.

Last month the government reached a binding agreement with the four largest mobile network operators, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, which sets out a number of measures to be taken to address the issue of patchy network coverage in some areas of the UK. The government, in reaching the deal, stepped back from legislating to fix the so-called 'not spot' problem.

Telecoms and property law experts at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, welcomed the government's decision to look again at the wording of the new Code.

Alicia Foo said this may be an "opportunity wasted", but it is better to "get the Code right" than for proposals to be rushed into law.

The Code that had been drafted and included in the Infrastructure Bill was "simply not fit for purpose", Dev Desai said. He said the government needs to spend time "to fully consider" the reforms that the Law Commission had recommended be introduced in its February 2013 report to ensure the new Code replacing the existing regulatory framework is "clear, fair and comprehensive".

Nicholas Vuckovic said the "hopefully short" delay in the "much-needed reform of the Code" is "good news for both landowners and operators". 

"Perhaps it was hoped that the government would escape criticism if it, mostly, followed the Law Commission’s 2013 recommendations; intended to create a future-proof platform for the ever-changing electronic communications industry," Vuckovic said. "However, there were justified concerns that the planned execution of those recommendations didn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s therefore good to hear that the government has now backtracked, and is willing to recognise that in order to prevent repetition of criticism levelled at the current Code; it deserves the time for considered thought and appropriate engagement with stakeholders."

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