UK implementation of revised EU telecoms (electronic communications) framework published

The UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (and although not in the title, telecoms) today published its response to the consultation on implementation of the revised EU electronic communications framework in the UK.

In contrast to the original introduction of the current EU Framework in 2003 which necessitated tearing up the Telecommunications Act 1984 and replacing it with the Communications Act 2003, the changes are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. The statutory changes will be implemented by statutory instruments that will be laid in early May, with other changes being effected by Ofcom and/or the Information Commissioner by 25 May. Nevertheless, some of the changes are more material, and they are summarised below.

The current changes are not the final word with the Government confirming that it will be undertaking a wholesale review of the Communications Act. This will kick off with an open letter in May.

  1. Appeals. Despite (or perhaps because of) the level of interest in reforming the current ‘on the merits’ appeal regime, this issue has been deferred to further consultation. The response does say that they consider that the current rules ‘gold-plate’ the European requirements and that moving to a Judicial Review standard (which would  make it more difficult to challenge decisions than currently is the case) would be appropriate.
  2. Network and service security and integrity. The new requirements will be ‘copied out’ which leaves a degree of ambiguity as to their meaning. It is proposed that clarity will come from Ofcom guidance, which will refer out to the existing security concepts in ND1643.
  3. Dispute resolution.  A wider group (‘one-step beneficiaries’) will be entitled to refer disputes whilst Ofcom will no longer be compelled to resolve ‘free-standing disputes’ not related to existing obligations or be required to resolve network access disputes (although it will obtain a new discretion to resolve network access disputes). Ofcom will gain new powers to recover its costs from complainants dependent on their conduct and the outcome of the dispute.
  4. Ofcom’s information gathering powers. These have been significantly widened, and Ofcom may levy fines of up to £2 million for non-compliance.
  5. Ofcom enforcement. The one month remedy window in relation to contravention notices has been replaced by a flexible ‘reasonable time for response’, and penalties for non-compliance may be periodic and/or have retroactive effect.  
  6. Power to impose Maximum Retail Tariff. Ofcom will gain new powers to impose maximum retail tariffs. It is likely to be used almost immediately in relation to non-geographic call pricing.
  7. Net Neutrality. The response takes a light touch approach to the issue of minimum quality of service (one aspect of net neutrality) with no significant additional obligations.
  8. Personal data breach notifications. The response reaffirms a ‘copy-out approach’, subject to three additions: new powers will permit the imposition of civil monetary penalties, provide for audit rights and make provisions for obtaining information from third parties. The Information Commissioner will be consulting on detailed enforcement guidance.
  9. Cookies.  See the post on the excellent Datonomy blog.

In summary, it would seem that the response ducks or defers many of the more complex issues, so those debates will continue in the context of the Communications Act review.