UK electronic communications licences, authorisations and notifications

The first question to ask yourself is whether you are providing an electronic communications network or service?

If you are, then do you need a licence, authorisation. permit, consent or need to notify anyone? In summary, in the UK you are generally free (but see some exceptions below) to set up and run an electronic communications network or offer an electronic communications service without getting permission from anyone.

Since 2003, when the Communications Act 2003 repealed the criminal offence of running an unlicensed telecommunications system (previously contained in the Telecommunications Act 1984) there has been no general requirement to have an individual licence to provide electronic communications networks or services in the UK. The Communications Act 2003 implemented the provisions of the  European Authorisation Directive, which directed member states to remove any general requirement for individual licences in favour of general authorisations. Whilst the Authorisation Directive permits Member states to require notification, there is no such requirement in the UK.

However, matters are never quite that simple, so there are still some requirements if you want to do certain things:

  1. Take advantage of the Electronic Communications Code to obtain access to public and private land. This requires you to be designated by the Secretary of State as someone to whom Code Powers apply.  You have to apply for that designation and are required to fulfil certain requirements including putting in place arrangements that will provide the financial wherewithal to deal with any reinstatement if you become insolvent.
  2. Use spectrum that is not subject to a class licence or exemption. The Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 retains the criminal offences of establishing or using unlicensed wireless telegraphy station or installing or using unlicensed wireless telegraphy apparatus. Whilst certain uses are subject to exemptions, many uses of spectrum (including 2G and 3G mobile telephony and WiMax) require individual licences.
  3. Be allocated telephone numbers. Telephone numbers do not require a licence, but you need to apply to Ofcom if you want to obtain a primary allocation of a numbering range.
  4. Provide certain premium rate or shared revenue services.  Some premium rate services regulated by Phone-paid Services Authority require ‘prior permission’.

However, even if a licence is not required under the electronic communciations rules, you also need to consider whether other licences are required depending on the nature of the service being offered – e.g. broadcasting and gambling both have their own rules.