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Wayleave reforms could boost UK digital deployment

Revised rules should make it easier and cheaper for telecom operators to install their communication infrastructure on private land, which in turn could speed up the roll out of mobile and broadband networks across the UK.

The government hopes these new regulations will help it reach its coverage and connectivity targets: 90 per cent mobile coverage across the UK and 95 per cent of all homes and businesses able to get superfast broadband.

The Electronic Communications Code was enacted in the Telecommunications Act 1984 to provide a statutory basis for companies to place telephony equipment on public or private land, and has remained largely unchanged, although it now encompasses all forms of electronic communication. Under ‘Code Powers’ approved operators can build infrastructure on public land and take rights over private land.

The proposed changes to the Code will bring the rents that telecoms operators pay to landowners to install equipment more in line with those paid by other utilities providers, such as gas and water. This could enable substantial savings for telcos.

“The rent paid by the telecoms operator will no longer be based on ‘real world’ factors such as the availability of potential sites and the potential profitability of the site for the operator. These have been specifically excluded from what constitutes ‘market value’ under the new Code. On the face of it, this will significantly reduce the rent that can be demanded by landowners,” explained James Sutherland of Burges Salmon LLP.

The new Code will also improve the process for resolving disputes between landowners and network operators, while allowing greater scope for telecoms operators to upgrade and share their equipment.

The Law Commission recommended reform of the Code in 2012, but it’s taken five year to consult with stakeholders and lay the necessary legislative groundwork in the Digital Economy Act, which received Royal Assent in April. Draft regulations needed to reform the Code have now been put in front of parliament, with changes expected to take effect from December 2017.

Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital, said:  It’s not good enough that many people are struggling with poor mobile and broadband connections which is why we are improving coverage across the UK. We want everyone to benefit from the growth of digital services. Removing these outdated restrictions will help promote investment in new technologies such as 5G, and give mobile operators more freedom to improve their networks in hard-to-reach places.

Mark Talbot FRICS, Chair of the Royal Institute of Chartered (RICS) Surveyors Telecoms Forum Board, said: “RICS has worked closely with our colleagues in DCMS to ensure that the new Code enables investment in our national digital infrastructure whilst balancing the needs of the public and private property owners. With high speed internet seen by many as the fourth utility service the public and businesses expect access to digital services when they want and as they want, and RICS believes that the reformed Code is a great step forward towards this ultimate goal.”

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