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The new telecoms code – what does it mean for landowners?

A new draft code covering mobile phone and broadband infrastructure affecting all landowners with telecoms equipment on their land is to come into force, possibly as early as next year.

The Digital Economy Act 2017 contains a new Electronic Communications Code to replace the current Telecommunications Act 1984, long criticised for being out of date, complex and confusing.

As a result of the pending changes, seen by many as a tightening of communications legislation, it has been reported that farmers and landowners are pulling out of telecoms deals concerned about the potential difficulties the new agreements could bring.

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 with the new code 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'.

What are the changes in the new Code likely to be?

It is still early days, but in brief, experts believe the key differences will include:

  • Major changes to the way land is valued which is expected to significantly lower the rents landowners can charge operators;
  • The automatic right for operators to upgrade or share apparatus - a further disincentive to landlords to accommodate operators;
  • Limitations on contracting out - the new Code will expressly state that operators will not have to pay compensation, or be subject to any other liability, in respect of any loss caused by the lawful exercise of their Code rights.

What should landowners do now?

Agreements with telecommunications providers are a popular way for landowners to secure an additional income stream. It is important, however, for landowners to take appropriate professional advice on the commercial terms of any deal agreed and also the legal implications of entering into any agreement.

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.