05 August 2016

Ofcom releases its review of the General Conditions of Entitlement

This article was written by Lisa Kaltenbrunner (Associate)

This week, the UK communications regulator Ofcom released a consultation concerning its review of the General Conditions of Entitlement. The amendments proposed offer welcome simplification for communications providers.

The General Conditions are the main regulatory regime for companies that provide electronic communications networks and services in the UK. They have to be followed by all electronic communications providers operating in the UK and Ofcom has statutory powers to take enforcement action in case of a breach and to issue penalties of up to 10% of the turnover of a person’s relevant business.

Following its Strategic Review of Digital Communications, Ofcom has decided to review these Conditions to reflect its current policy priorities and to ensure that the Conditions are fit for purpose in today’s market. The aim is to make the rules clearer, easier to comply with and simpler to enforce. In addition, Ofcom aims to consolidate regulation and de-regulate where appropriate.

To simplify the consultation process and to make it more manageable for Ofcom and its stakeholders, the consultation is split into two parts. The first consultation invites stakeholders to comment on the following categories by 11 October 2016:

  1. network functioning (Conditions 1 to 5);
  2. public pay telephones (Condition 6);
  3. directory information (Conditions 8 and 19); and
  4. numbering conditions (Conditions 17 and 20).

To set this into context, we highlight a few examples for each of these categories. For a), Ofcom is proposing to remove unused direction-making powers, including the power to make directions relating to technical standards and specifications. For categories b) and c), Ofcom is proposing to remove the requirement for communications providers and providers of public pay phones to ensure that any end-user can access operator assistance services and for d), Ofcom is seeking views on removing the redundant provision concerning charges for calls to the European Telephone Numbering Space, which is no longer operative.

Overall, the focus of the consultation appears to target form rather than content, aiming to simplify and clarify the remaining Conditions and ensuring consistency of terminology used, rationalising the definitions and shortening the drafting. There are however some more substantive changes, such as:

  • eCalls: a new requirement from 1 October 2017 for regulated providers of mobile services to provide access by all end-users to emergency organisations using eCall services – this implements EU laws which require eCall devices to be installed in new types of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles from 31 March 2018;
  • VoIP: a new requirement for VoIP providers to recommend that their customer update their location information if the VoIP service is to be accessed from several locations; and
  • Numbering: stronger powers for Ofcom to withdraw unassigned or dormant blocks of telephone numbers.

Stakeholders should still therefore be encouraged to review the proposals and engage with Ofcom where appropriate. Submissions can be made on a confidential or non-confidential basis.

The second half of the consultation released later this year will primarily deal with consumer protection issues. Ofcom intends to publish its final statement and the revised General Conditions in Spring 2017.

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