The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill may sound like an obscure piece of legislation, but it has the potential to erode property rights, disrupt a previously functional market and slow down the rollout of 5G.
The bill consolidates operator predominance in the area of mast site provision. Supporting the sector, with both this legislation and £500m in subsidies, is a government in thrall to big tech and willing to distort the free market to get industry giants on its side.
All of this began with claims by network operators that they were paying too much in site rentals, leading to a change to the Electronic Communications Code in 2017. This change made the concept of ‘existing use value’, rather than market value, the basis for mast site payments.
Market value has long been the standard for property valuation, as it takes into account a range of factors that might influence any landowner’s decision to rent their property.
Whether a farmer has a mast inconveniently close to a farmstead or a block of flats cannot be extended due to a mast on its roof, these installations have clear implications for value well beyond pure existing use.
That is why existing use is totally unfit for calculating rents. This is made clear by the rent reductions of over 90% imposed on some landowners by the 2017 changes, which have resulted in lengthy court battles and disincentivised potential site owners.
This bill rewards bad practices, lacks any sense of fairness or effective policing and encourages deteriorating standards. Most people would applaud the government’s stated aim of speeding up the rollout of 5G, but it will not be achieved without a predictable, stable and above all fair market.
John Lytton is a member of the House of Lords