Insights Telecoms Newsletter – April 2022

Welcome to the inaugural edition of our Telecoms newsletter – a place where we collate the most interesting developments in the telecoms sector.

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European Electronics Communication Code (EECC) Tracker

2021 saw a revamp of the rules applicable to electronic communications networks and services owing to the transposition of the EEEC into national laws. These changes are likely to continue long into 2022.

We’ve seen first-hand that the approach taken to implementation varies across the EU/EEA and in the UK, meaning that providers can’t rely on uniformity of rules. To assist, we’ve created a European Electronic Communications Code tracker to help you navigate the status of EECC implementation. The tracker provides an at-a-glance view of implementation as well as a detailed summary of the current status for each territory.

Heatmap for 2022 – Key global regulatory issues for the communications sector

With a busy agenda set for communications providers in 2022, we’ve set out our predictions for the year to help you stay up to date and consider the key topics ahead on law maker regulatory agendas. To find out more, click here to view our Heatmap.

Telecom providers call for large content platforms to contribute to the cost of the European digital infrastructure that carries their services

On 14 Feb 22, four major European telecom providers called for EU law makers to introduce new legislation to force platforms – i.e., Big Tech, over-the-top providers or hyperscalers, to pay their fair share of network investments. Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone argue Big Tech should be asked to contribute to expanding internet infrastructure as video streaming, social media and gaming usage increases. To find out more, see the Joint statement here.

Competition law – European Commission consults on draft revised rules on horizontal cooperation agreements between companies

On 1 March 2022, the European Commission opened a consultation on revised rules on horizontal cooperation agreements between companies. The proposed new rules aim to update current rules to adjust them to the economic and societal developments that have occurred in the last decade (e.g., the digital and green transition), address existing provisions considered rigid and complex, and tackle the level of legal certainty provided by current Horizontal Guidelines deemed uneven for the different types of horizontal cooperation agreements covered. Providers have until 26 April 2022 to respond, and new rules will enter into force from 1 January 2023 – see here.

Telecoms Security – UK Government Consults on new legal instruments to control the use of Huawei in UK networks and new security requirements for communications networks and service providers

On 28 Feb 2022 Government opened a consultation seeking views on their proposed Designated Vendor Direction and Designation Notice to restrict the use of Huawei equipment and services in UK telecoms networks. These measures would legally require telecoms operators to take a number of steps, including the removal of all Huawei equipment from 5G networks by the end of 2027; and to reduce the share of Huawei equipment to 35% of the full fibre and 5G access (i.e. non-core) networks by 31 July 2023. The consultation closed on 21 March 2022. To find out more, click here.

DCMS also launched a Consultation on 1 March on the UK’s new telecoms security requirements. This follows the enactment of the Telecommunications (Security) Act 2021 in December 2021, which introduced new duties for public electronic communications networks and services providers, including duties i) to identify and reduce the risk of security compromises and prepare for the possibility of their occurrence; and ii) to prevent, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects of security compromises. With this latest Consultation, government is seeking views on a number of aspects of new security requirements, including proposals on a draft code of practice (which sets out the steps that companies can take to meet the new requirements) and a set of draft regulations (Electronic Communications (Security Measures) Regulations). Stakeholders have until 10 May 2022 to respond. For more detail, click here.

In early March Ofcom also published consultations on their proposed procedural guidance on the exercise of Ofcom’s functions to ensure compliance with the new security duties and resilience requirements for providers. Providers have until 17 May 2022 to respond – more detail can be found here.

Telecoms Security – Extension of Network and Information Systems (NIS) Regulations to Managed ServicesTo help improve the UK’s cyber-resilience, on 19 January 2022 DCMS proposed updates to the Network and Information Systems Regulations which will extend security obligations to the providers of managed services, many of which act as suppliers to public telecoms providers. The proposal is to expand the scope of digital services regulated under the NIS Regulations to include “managed services” and for the providers of digital managed services to be subject to the same duties as other digital service providers. To find out more, click here.

Future of UK Mobile Markets and Spectrum – Ofcom sets out initial views on the future of mobile markets and spectrum

On 9 Feb 2022, Ofcom published two discussion papers – focusing on Ofcom’s future approach to mobile markets, setting out the regulator’s initial thinking on how mobile markets might develop and how networks may need to evolve to meet future demand. Stakeholders have until 8 April 2022 to respond. To find out more, click here.

Ofcom Spectrum Consultation – Enabling spectrum sharing in the upper 6 GHz band

On 28 Feb 2022, Ofcom opened a new consultation on their proposal to add the upper 6 GHz band (6425-7070 MHz) to Ofcom’s Shared Access licence framework for low-power, indoor use. Ofcom anticipates such licences could be particularly suitable for industrial, business and research uses and has given stakeholders have until 11 April 2022 to respond. To find out more, click here.

Consumer Protection – New Ofcom proposals to tackle scam calls and texts

On 23 February 2022, Ofcom announced that it was planning a crackdown on use of fake number fraud. Consultations were launched on two proposals to strengthen Ofcom rules and guidance on what providers should do to make it harder for scammers to use communications services to reach consumers: including i) new rules and guidance for providers to detect and block ‘spoofed’ numbers; and ii) a good practice guide to help prevent scammers accessing valid phone numbers. For more details, click here.

Ofcom Changes to UK Switching and Porting requirements

On 3 Feb 2022 Ofcom published a statement setting out their decision to introduce i) easier landline and broadband switching in the UK (by requiring industry to ensure that all residential customers can use a single process (One Touch Switch) to move providers, regardless of who their provider is or the technology or network their provider uses); and ii) better information for mobile switchers – by making changes to current rules to ensure that mobile customers using the Auto-Switch process receive additional information when they switch – including on any bundled services and specific services for disabled customers. These changes, together with other EECC changes, replaced the existing arrangements from 3 April 2023. For more details, click here.

Accessibility – Ofcom update on new Emergency Video Relay requirements

From 17 June 2022 UK communications providers will be required to provide, or contract to provide, a free 24/7 emergency video relay service approved by Ofcom. On 27 January 2022 Ofcom approved Sign Language Interactions’ proposed service. BT has also formally proposed to wholesale the Emergency Video Relay service for all Communication Providers (CPs) and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), subject to agreeing terms with SLI. To find out more, click here.

Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) publishes new standards and requirements

On Feb 2022, the PSA (the UK’s regulator for content, goods and services charged to a phone bill) published Code 15 which will enter into force on 5 April 2022. Code 15 is the new PSA Code of Practice which sets out standards and requirements that providers of phone-paid services must comply with e.g., on transparency, fairness and vulnerable customers. The new Code also introduces a new approach, designed to enable and support providers in achieving compliance and preventing harm from occurring. To find out more, click here.

CMA publishes progress update on its mobile ecosystems market study

In December 2021, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (the “CMA”) published an interim report on its market study into mobile ecosystems, assessing various potential sources of consumer harm – focusing inter alia on competition in the supply of mobile devices and operating systems and mobile browsers and browser engines, the distribution of mobile apps and on the role of Apple and Google in competition between app developers. In a progress report at the end of Feb 2022, the CMA noted a number of further key developments they had made, including accepting commitments from Google on their plans to remove third-party cookies from Chrome and replace them with alternative “Privacy Sandbox” tools and Google’s announcement that it plans to roll out a similar set of privacy-related changes in relation to app advertising within the Android ecosystem (which it refers to as its “Android Privacy Sandbox”). The CMA will continue its market study work and monitor these developments going forward. Their final report will be published by 14 June 2022. For more information, click here.

Merger control – Cellnex / CK Hutchison UK towers merger inquiry

Following its investigation of the anticipated acquisition of the passive infrastructure assets (i.e., structures, such as towers and masts, that mobile network operators and other wireless communication network providers attach electronic equipment to in order to operate their networks, including the sites that the structures are built on) of CK Hutchison in the UK by Cellnex, the CMA decided on 3 March 2022 that Cellnex must sell over 1,000 telecoms tower sites to address competition concerns over its purchase of CK Hutchison’s UK towers. To find out more, click here.

Vertical agreements – Government consults on New UK Vertical Block exemption guidelines draft order

Following the UK government’s recent announcement that a new Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Order (VABEO) will replace the retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation (when this legislation expires at the end of May 2022), on 21 Feb 2022 government opened a consultation on a draft VABEO. The proposed new Order makes certain changes to the current regime with the aim of giving businesses more flexibility to design their distribution systems according to their needs and stakeholders were invited to comment by 16 March. More information can be found here. The CMA also intends to publish draft Verticals Guidance for consultation soon.

Auto-renewing Consumer Contracts (part I) – New compliance principles

The CMA recently published a new set of compliance principles following its review of the use of auto-renewing contracts by antivirus software firms. The principles, which will apply to all businesses using auto-renewing consumer contracts, aim to protect consumers from being locked into contracts they no longer want or need and/or being charged renewal fees which are higher than quoted on sign-up. For more information, click here.

Auto-renewing Consumer Contracts (part II) – CMA secures undertakings from Microsoft

In January 2022, the CMA secured undertakings from Microsoft following an investigation into the supply of auto-renewing memberships. The undertakings sought to address various concerns of the CMA relating to how well consumers understood the implications and practicalities of these auto-renewing memberships. Microsoft has undertaken to give better upfront information and ongoing notifications, to maintain a simple system for customers to switch off auto-renewal if they wish, and to take a much proactive approach to consumers who haven’t used their memberships for a long time but are still paying for the service. For more information, click here.

Online Safety Bill Briefing

Working in partnership with industry colleagues, we’re planning a digital briefing on the UK’s Online Safety Bill to take place later in the Spring. If you’d be interested in attending, please get in touch to find out more details and ensure you receive all the details of how to join us for the session.