Electronic Communications Code

Published: 19 February 2024
Last updated: 27 June 2024

The Electronic Communications Code ('the Code') is a set of rights that are designed to facilitate the installation and maintenance of electronic communications networks.

The Code is set out in Schedule 3A of the Communications Act 2003. It confers rights on providers of such networks and on providers of systems of infrastructure to install and maintain apparatus on, under and over land and results in considerably simplified planning procedures.

The Code only has effect in the case of a person to whom it is applied by a direction given by Ofcom (or, in the case of the Secretary of State or any Northern Ireland department, where the Secretary of State or that department is providing or proposing to provide an electronic communications network).

The Code confers “code rights” on a person with Code powers. A code right is a right to:

  • install electronic communications apparatus on, under or over the land;
  • keep installed apparatus which is on, under or over land;
  • inspect, maintain, and operate apparatus;
  • carry out any works on the land to enable apparatus to be installed and maintained;
  • gain access to land to maintain or operate apparatus;
  • connect to a power supply;
  • interfere with or obstruct a means of access to or from the land (whether or not any electronic communications apparatus is on, under or over the land); and
  • lop or cut back any tree or other vegetation that could interfere with apparatus.

In connection with these rights, the Code allows persons to whom the Code applies to:

  • construct and maintain electronic communications networks and infrastructure (such as ducts, cabinets and poles) on public highways without the need to obtain a street works licence to undertake such works;
  • construct communications infrastructure which is classified as ‘permitted developments’ under Town and Country Planning legislation (such as certain types of masts, poles and cabinets) without the need to apply for planning permission;
  • in the event that agreement cannot be reached with the owner or occupier of private land, the Code allows an operator to apply to the Court to impose an agreement which confers the Code right being sought or for the Code right to bind the landowner or occupier; and
  • claim compensation from a local authority in circumstances where that local authority has obstructed access to electronic communications apparatus in certain stipulated circumstances.

Persons to whom the Code applies (Code operators) are subject to conditions and restrictions imposed by the Secretary of State pursuant to section 109 of the Communications Act 2003. These conditions and restrictions are set out in the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003/2533 as amended. Amongst other things, these include an obligation to comply with a Code of Practice concerning the siting of cabinets and poles.

Ofcom is also responsible for maintaining a register of persons who have been granted Code powers.

Ofcom also has an enforcement role under s.110 of the Communications Act 2003 over compliance by Code operators with any requirement imposed by virtue of any restrictions or conditions under the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003 as amended.

What can I do if Ofcom cannot help and I want to take the matter further?

Ofcom cannot provide advice on the Code. If you are in doubt as to your legal rights or obligations, we advise that you seek independent legal advice.

For queries on Code powers and to apply, contact Ofcom’s ECC Code Powers Team at ECCCodepowers@ofcom.org.uk.

With the amendment of the Code in 2017, section 106(4)(b) of the Communications Acts 2003 was changed to replace references to “conduit system” with “system of infrastructure”. Our application requirements are being amended to reflect the current Code framework.

Any application we receive will be an application for Code powers on the basis of the grounds for application under section 106 of the Communications Act 2003.

Ofcom charges an application fee and annual administrative charge to cover its estimated costs of processing applications and administering the Code. Current rates are set out in our tariff tables.

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