UK set to update telco rules regarding bundles, switching and handsets

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The UK implemented the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) in December 2020 through updates to the Communications Act 2003 and the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. This also necessitated changes to the more granular telecoms rules that apply to communications providers enforced by Ofcom contained in the General Conditions of Entitlement (GCs).

This article considers the changes to the GCs that apply from December 2021. There are two further sets of changes that will come in during 2022:

  • Better contract information and stronger termination rights and the provision of an emergency video-relay service - June 2022;
  • Improved switching processes for broadband - December 2022. We note that this version may be subject to change as a result of the ongoing consultation from Ofcom on landline and broadband switching.

You can read more about the UK’s approach to implementation here.

General conditions

The new version of the General Conditions applicable from December 2021 will bring with it a number of changes to the definitions, including adding the definition of “Number-based Interpersonal Communications Service” to bring the GCs into alignment with the Communications Act 2003. In addition to the changes to the definitions, the following GCs will also be updated:

 GC  Subject 
 C1.8  Conditions and procedures for contract termination
 C1.9  Prohibition on handset locking
 C1.11 - C1.12  Contract duration
 C1.23 - C1.36  Information on bundles in end-of-contract notifications and annual best tariff notifications
 C2.19 - C2.21  Sharing information with third parties
 C2.3 - C2.4 and C2.16  Publication of information
 C3.7 and C3.13 - C3.14  Billing – providing up-to-date information and service usage notifications
 C5.15  Providing communication materials in accessible formats

Many of these changes update the existing requirements, particularly in relation to consumer protection, and we have highlighted below a few key or new requirements:

  • Switching – The current requirement that conditions and procedures for switching do not act as a disincentive to customer switching is being extended to bundles and Ofcom has prepared additional guidance in Annex 10 to the GCs. This guidance contains suggestions on a number of points, including identifying micro or small enterprise customers (an updated definition) and not for profit customers, conditions and procedures for contract termination, automatically renewing contracts, contract notifications, etc.

  • Banning mobile providers from selling locked mobile devices - Providers will be required to ensure that no handset locking restrictions are applied to a user’s mobile device when sold or provided as part of a bundle. These handset locking restrictions include any restriction applied on a mobile device sold or provided as part of a bundle with a mobile communications service and which prevents it being used on another provider’s network. The further changes coming into force in June 2022, will enable consumers to have these handset locking restrictions lifted free of charge, on or before the day in which the contract is terminated.

  • Bundles – A number of the GCs that already apply are being applied to bundles of services, including end of contract notifications, annual best tariff notifications and publication of information. In this context, a bundle is defined by Ofcom as a contract (or two or more closely related or linked contracts), at least one of which relates to the provision of an internet access service or a number-based interpersonal communications service. The other services/contracts which may comprise part of a “Bundle” include content services or terminal equipment (such as mobile handsets).

The new GCs will also contain further rules on accessibility for users with disabilities, transparency and information publication.

Next steps

Communications providers will need to be ready to comply with the new GCs from 19 December 2021 and will also need to begin preparing their services, systems and processes for the other new rules coming in June 2022 and December 2022.

For further information contact Matt Buckwell

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