As a requirement of the Brexit transition, the UK has published legislation implementing the EECC. This puts in place the foundation of the EU's Digital Single Market in a significant revision of the existing regulatory framework dating from 2009.
The heart of the new code is the implementation of 5G and fast fibre with investment in very high capacity networks that can deliver the EU's ambition for advanced connectivity. This in turn chimes with stated objectives in the UK. The code also seeks to level the playing field by extending the code to embrace OTT communication applications.
Not all the code has been directly transposed as the government has already committed to deprioritising certain OTT services, including number-independent interpersonal communication services (NI-ICS). These include the sections of the code relating to security, end-user provisions and interconnection/interoperability. However, Ofcom are already implementing customer protections in full.
It's through Ofcom's general conditions that the granular aspects of the code will be implemented including preventing mobile providers from selling locked devices. Ofcom's final statement published in October outlines a raft of new consumer protections in the telecoms space which are expected to deliver a raft of improvements by December 2022.
Alongside the ban on selling locked mobiles, Ofcom will extend rules on access for disabled customers and will make switching Broadband easier and more reliable. This seamless switching experience will be led by the new provider regardless of whether a customer is moving to a new network or between two providers on the same fixed network but with different technologies. Loss of service must not exceed one working day and customers must receive compensation if anything goes wrong during the switch.
Better contract information and stronger rights to exit a contract will all be included in the new Ofcom rules. OTT providers like Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp will be required to comply with customer protections, but these NI-ICS providers are likely to be deprioritised and required to implement the changes only at a later date.
The new legislation, which will make changes to the provision of the Communications Act 2003 and Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, must be part of national law by December 2020. Ofcom will then give providers at least 12 months to implement these new consumer protection requirements. It's expected that some provisions may be refined owing to the Brexit process with Ofcom's new rules entering into force at the same time as the legislation is put on the statute book. The time it takes to deliver the new code will also account for disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The major divergence over the regulation of OTT services is likely to be a sign of things to come as the government approaches the end of the Brexit transition period. Further divergence from the EECC is likely as the government moves forward which may have an impact on critical areas including data privacy and interoperability, but for now the improved consumer protections are something to cheer.