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Communications Act 2003

Section 185: Reference of disputes to OFCOM

401.This section enables parties to certain disputes relating to network access or dealing with obligations under Part 2 of the Act and other legislation relating to radio spectrum management to be referred by a party to OFCOM. The types of disputes that may be referred are: (i) network access disputes between different communications providers, between communications providers and persons making associated facilities available or between different persons making associated facilities available; (ii) disputes concerning the access-related conditions set under section 74(1) between communications providers or persons making associated facilities available and persons to whom that section applies or between different persons to whom that section applies; (iii) disputes between different communications providers dealing with obligations under Part 2 of the Act (other than disputes about obligations imposed by SMP apparatus conditions, the persistent misuse of networks or services, restrictions in leases and licences or offences relating to networks and services) or under other legislation relating to radio spectrum management.

402.Under subsection (4), OFCOM may stipulate the manner in which a reference may be made by a party to the dispute. Any requirements imposed by OFCOM must be published in a notice. This section implements Article 20(1) of the Framework Directive.

403.Paragraph 22 of Schedule 18 (transitional provisions) makes provision for OFCOM to deal with disputes arising under ‘old’ rules (notably, the Telecommunications (Interconnection) Regulations 1997). Such disputes will in effect continue to be resolved under the ‘old’ rules as regards their substance. This means that, for example, only the latter’s (more restricted) range of remedies can be applied; in particular, OFCOM cannot award costs or compensation. However, these disputes will be handled under the new procedural arrangements – so that, for example, the decisions will be appealable to the CAT, and must be taken within 4 months (rather than 6 as in the present rules) –(see subparagraph (1)). After the end of the transitional period (specified in section 408), OFCOM will only be able to deal with these disputes if they are satisfied that the circumstances are ‘exceptional’ – e.g. if it was not reasonable or possible for the issue in dispute to have been discovered before (subparagraph (2)(d)). Where they take a decision under these provisions, OFCOM must also take steps as soon as possible to decide whether or not to replace the direction giving effect to such a decision with a condition of entitlement under the new regime, and then to either introduce such a condition or else abandon the old direction.

404.Any direction given under regulation 6 before the Telecommunications (Interconnection) Regulations 1997 are revoked will be enforceable under paragraph 13 of Schedule 18. Paragraph 22 also provides (subparagraphs (5) to (7)) for directions made by Oftel to resolve disputes under the Interconnection Regulations to have continued effect even after the revocation of the Regulations by the Act. However OFCOM’s powers to continue such directions are restricted to obligations which could be replaced by new-style obligations and are subject to the duty to review and either replace or abandon them as described above.

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