some of the most common questions
Please see below the most frequently asked questions on the impacts the Electronic Telecommunications Code is having and why this campaign matters for landowners large and small across the UK.
why does this matter?
It has never been more apparent that the UK needs world class telecommunications. Full UK digital connectivity is something we all want and need.
The revised legislation and proposed changes to the Electronic Communications Code provide an imbalanced and discriminatory regime that significantly impacts those who own land and buildings with telecoms infrastructure.
The legislation already gives a select and limited number of telecoms companies sweeping powers to interfere with private property rights.
Under the current Code, landowners are forced to accept rent reductions of up to 90% or face being ‘pushed’ into court by big businesses who profit at their expense. This is despite the fact that the operators and infrastructure companies have already received large government subsidies to roll out connectivity to under-represented areas.
The latest government consultation seeks to give operators even more rights and to apply many retrospectively. This goes against the aims and objectives of the original legislation and ‘fair play’.
who is affected?
Anyone who has telecommunications infrastructure on their land now, or may acquire it in the future is directly affected by the Code.
This group includes thousands of farmers, sports and social clubs, residents of flats, businesses, charities, occupiers and owners of offices, shops and industrial estates. Many of whom have seen their businesses ravaged by the pandemic and now face further draconian changes in legislation.
The Code also affects anyone who has an interest in the UK receiving world-beating digital connectivity. If the next generation of digital infrastructure is delayed by unnecessary disputes over equipment sites, ultimately it will be the consumer that suffers when they cannot get 5G.
why are the rents being cut?
Rents are being cut due to a revised valuation methodology which offers landowners money based on the minimal alternative use value of the land rather than the total value of the telecommunications property, which is often far greater. In rural areas, this means agricultural land prices.
Rather than using the Code as a last resort (as was the intention of the 2017 changes), Operators are using it as the default way to work with landowners.
The government has suggested that the ‘savings’ Operators make on the rental payments will be reinvested in new networks and consumer benefits - but instead, unscrupulous Operators are keeping the profits for themselves.
In the UK as well as across Europe, traditional telecoms companies are selling their masts and other infrastructure to third parties for large capital sums. To maximise those sums, the operators are looking to push down the rents they pay to property owners as much as possible. The traditional telecoms companies will then enter into long term service agreements with the third party at levels far in excess of the original rent charged by the property owner. This process is designed to increase profit margins not to increase connectivity.
why and when did the law change?
The changes were introduced by the Digital Economy Act 2017 which made revisions to the Electronic Communications Code (the Code) which is set out in Schedule 3A of the Communications Act 2003. These changes came into effect on 28th December 2017.
The revised legislation had four key aims: assisting the rollout of networks, providing upgrade and sharing rights to operators, reducing payments to align with utilities companies, and resolving disputes more efficiently.
The legislation was intended to be used as a last resort and not the default ‘tool’ of choice for agreeing contracts between telecoms companies and property owners. But telecoms companies are using it by default for their own profit. This is stopping the market working and leading to delays in digital rollout.
aren't the reforms necessary to ensure rural areas get high speed connectvity?
Connectivity in rural areas is needed now more than ever, with many areas still struggling to receive any signal. However, the rent paid by an Operator is only a small part of the overall cost of installing and running a mast.
The government funded Mobile Infrastructure Project found the major obstacles to be issues and costs associated with planning, and running power, and other utilities to rural masts. These are not related to the rent paid to the land owner.
Since the Code was introduced, there have been very few new rural masts constructed. The majority of applications to court and notices issued have been in relation to existing sites. This is forcing some to think about whether they still want to use their land to support telecoms companies. And having seen what is happening to these property owners, it is hard to see why new land would be offered up for use.
Most other countries are beginning to roll out 5G and those rollouts are still being done without the need to artificially reduce the market rates paid to landowners. In fact, in some countries which have better connectivity, landowners are paid more than would have been in the UK prior to the introduction of the Code in 2017.
In fact, since the Code came into force the government has had to step in directly and provide substantial incentives for the operators to invest in rural areas, such as the Shared Rural Network where £500m of public funds have been allocated to subsidise mobile telecoms companies.
what is the goverment's consultation for?
The government’s consultation looks at giving more rights to telecoms companies in 3 key areas:
Issues relating to obtaining and using Code agreements, i.e. engagement, behaviour and compliance with best practice; alternative dispute resolution; enforcement of existing rights and expansion of rules that allow operators to modify and extend rights.
Rights to upgrade and share, i.e. extension of operators rights to install new equipment on sites at no extra cost, and retrospective application of these rules to existing contracts that were signed before the Code came into force in 2017.
Difficulties relating to the renewal of expired agreements, i.e. retrospective erosion of protections under the original legislation that would enable the operators to get parties to court even faster.
You can access the consultation via this link
what are the consultation timelines?
The consultation commenced on 27th January 2021 and will run for 8 weeks until its close on 24th March 2021
how can I help?
You can help by contacting your local MP and asking them to support the campaign. You can find your local MP and their contact details at this link LINK
You can also respond to the current consultation, making sure to outline direct experiences if you have had them.
You can also contact us directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org