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Landowners – new Telecoms Code now in force

The provisions of the new Electronic Communication Code, part of the Digital Economy Act 2017, are now – as of 28 December 2017 – up and running, affecting all landowners with telecoms equipment on their land.

The aim of the new code, which replaces the Telecommunications Act 1984 – long criticised for being out of date, complex and confusing – is to modernise regulation enabling the rapid rollout of digital communications infrastructure including 4G networks, superfast broadband and future new technology.

Before the new code, seen by many as a tightening of communications legislation, came into effect it was reported that farmers and landowners were pulling out of telecoms deals concerned about the potential difficulties the new agreements could bring.

But there is also evidence of a surge in agreements being put into place between April and December last year to take advantage of some clear advantages. For example, under the new code provisions prohibiting upgrade of equipment or equipment sharing are void (as long as certain conditions are met) as are restrictions on transferring the agreement to another operator. 

What is the new Code all about? 

It gives rights to certain providers of telecoms services to install and maintain their apparatus, including masts, exchanges and cables, in, over and under both public and private land.

It regulates the legal relationships between landowners and operators and enables the latter to acquire rights over land in certain circumstances.

The Government’s aim is to promote continued investment in digital communication networks and to achieve this, gives greater power to operators with new rights to upgrade and share infrastructure without landowner consent.

At the same time, landowners are likely to find that their financial and commercial incentives to accommodate operators are significantly reduced and that their ability to remove an operator, even if the rent has not been paid or the lease has been breached, is ‘restricted’.

Key elements

Under the new code, landowners will have less freedom to charge premium prices for the use of their property by telecoms companies.

Rent rates will be based on a concept similar to compulsory purchase order compensation which disregard the fact the site has a telecoms use. Valuation surveyors will now be called in to interpret the legislation and come up with valuations in accordance with the new code.

Ofcom 

The UK Telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has also published a finalised code of practice on the new Electronic Communications Code that the industry must use in contracts subject to the new code.

Click here to read our previous article on this subject.

For more information about this area of the law please contact Wards Solicitors’ Commercial Property team or pop into one of our 11 local offices.

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