It is no secret that the UK’s internet capabilities have a lot of catching up to do. Indeed, the stalled rollout of full-fibre is a growing national problem that must be tackled swiftly, especially as the UK still lags behind other countries. So it is encouraging that the government has made digital infrastructure a priority, with the issue firmly on the agenda in this year’s autumn Budget.
The positive words from the chancellor were followed by a consultation document from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) titled ‘Ensuring tenants’ access to gigabit-capable connections’, which aimed to gather industry views on proposals to amend the Electronic Communications Code. The consultation’s questions centre around how the UK can speed up the rollout of full-fibre infrastructure and address any obstacles.
The consultation’s main focus is on possible legal obligations for landlords to overcome the slow rollout of digital infrastructure. One proposal would give telecoms operators powers to use magistrates’ courts to gain entry to properties when landlords fail to respond to access requests to install equipment or make improvements – a kind of compulsory wayleave. Understandably, this has caused much concern among landlords.
While the government’s ambitions to speed up the installation of digital infrastructure are positive, the proposed regulatory changes do little to build the trust with landlords that operators need. Not only do the proposals impede established property rights, but introducing new legislation so soon after the previous changes in December 2017 could also cause further delay to the rollout, as the telecoms and property industries debate the legislative change then wait to fully understand its impact.
There are a number of other reasons why some landlords disregard wayleaves. For instance, a major disincentive for wayleaves are the restrictions they place on landlords’ rights when redeveloping.
To encourage greater collaboration between telecoms operators and landlords, it would be more valuable to make landlords aware of the benefits that true full-fibre broadband infrastructure can provide. These include faster and more reliable internet connections for residents, as well as connected property management systems that can help landlords manage their properties more efficiently.
We believe broadband providers should work with landlords to make them aware of the benefits of full-fibre broadband, then gain their permission to install new fibre-optic cables.
The DCMS consultation is open until 21 December and we would encourage landlords to submit their views.