Amendments to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) designed to remove barriers that prevent network operators from upgrading and sharing infrastructure have been welcomed by Georgina Rudak, Head of Wayleave and a solicitor at telecoms law specialist Trenches Law, but the changes fall short of what is required, she claims.
The amendments include a requirement for telecoms operators to consider the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as an option in their notices to landowners; automatic rights for operators to upgrade and share underground infrastructure; measures that enable operators to apply for time-limited access to certain types of land more quickly where a landowner does not respond to repeated requests for permission; and provisions to speed up negotiations for renewal agreements.
"There is a genuine intention to legislate in this area," stated Rudak. "Without support from the UK Government the industry is likely to fall short of the 85% gigabit broadband coverage by 2025 target.
“However, we don't believe the changes go far enough. While they provide an easier route for agreements to be imposed on unresponsive occupiers, we expect this will mirror the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021 in that where an occupier has previously been in contact but has since stopped responding, this new, efficient process will not be available."
Rudak says the requirement to consider the use of ADR is a welcome move. "But we question if this is enough," she added. "Whether this will assist where truly unreasonable terms or costs are requested remains to be seen.
"We believe that professional costs associated with the acquisition of wayleave agreements is an area that requires a particular focus as they are becoming astronomical, and ISPs are unable to justify fees in excess of £3,000 to facilitate a £35-£40 per month broadband connection.
“Overall, the changes are absolutely a step in the right direction, but legislation may need to go even further to support the roll out of full fibre broadband in the UK.”