Brexit and Telecoms

Introduction

It is a paradox of Brexit that for many years the the UK championed the policy ideas that underpin the current EU telecoms framework. From the original liberalisation of European telecoms markets to the adoption of a philosophy that good consumer outcomes were, where possible, delivered by a competitive market.

Whilst the UK and EU started from a position of regulatory alignment, the UK has already started to diverge materially from the EU:

  • First, merely by virtue of leaving the EU and becoming a ‘third country’ the regulatory treatment in UK law (even ‘retained EU law) and EU law changed in relation to cross-border issues including roaming, net neutrality and ongoing regulation of voice termination rates.
  • Second, the UK has already made a deliberate policy choice not to implement in full the new European telecoms regulatory framework (the European Electronic Communications Code or EECC) which has implications for both telecoms regulation and as a result of the link with the ePrivacy rules, data protection.
  • Third, as the UK will no longer adopt new EU telecoms law, (and will presumably seek to implement its own policy choices), divergence is only likely to increase over time. Whilst the UK remains constrained by its Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU and its telecoms commitment at the WTO, these exist at such a high-level of generality that the UK has scope to make materially different policy choices from the EU.

Each of these three areas is explained further below.

Immediate issues: UK as a ‘Third Country’

Roaming

Net neutrality

Voice termination rates

Choosing to diverge: partial EECC implementation

Exclusion of OTT from telecoms regulation

No enhanced regulatory independence for Ofcom

Withdrawal from harmonising processes and bodiesWithdrawal from voice termination rate co-ordinated regulation

At least 12 month’s delay in implementing consumer protection aspects

No co-operation on cross-border market issues

Medium to long term issues

UK non-adoption of new EU Law

Trade and Co-operation Agreement provisions

WTO Commitments

Other trade deals: US, CPTPP, etc