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Rural UK Landowners Angered by New Mobile Network Coverage Deal

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 (11:53 am) - Score 1,223

The Country Land and Business Association, which represents tens of thousands of landowners across both England and Wales, appears to have reversed its earlier support for the Government’s plan to improve geographic mobile network coverage (2G, 3G and 4G). At the heart of the problem is a change to regulate the price that landowners can charge telecoms operators for access.

The new agreement between the Government and mobile operators, including Three UK, Vodafone, EE and O2, was reached just before Christmas (here) and among other things included a pledged to extend geographic mobile network coverage (voice and text) of the United Kingdom from 80% today to 90% by 2017 (note: 85% for 3G/4G).

Until recently the CLA had been saying that they “support the Government’s attempt to resolve this major problem“, although that changed slightly last month when the final £5bn deal was announced (note: we suspect that much of this funding will come from the commercial 4G rollout). “This announcement contains big numbers and strong words but in reality it perpetuates the status quo and will leave thousands of homes and businesses with the prospect of poor or no mobile phone coverage for years to come,” said Henry Robinson, CLA President, last month.

Last week (9th Jan) the Government formally tabled a batch of related amendments to the Infrastructure Bill and their plans to replace the existing Electronic Communications Code (ECC). The ECC is, among other things, responsible for regulating the agreements that can be reached between landowners and communications companies regarding the location, installation and access to infrastructure (e.g. radio masts and underground cables).

Unfortunately the changes, which will be debated in Parliament this week, appear to “diminish landowners’ rights to negotiate a fair price with global communications companies for the location of telecommunication masts and underground cables“, says the CLA. The amendments, which currently lack some much needed detail, appear to allow the Secretary of State to intervene in negotiations and regulate the price landowners can charge for access (i.e. only if it was deemed a sticking point in advancing rights of access).

Henry Robinson, CLA President, told ISPreview.co.uk:

It is wholly unjustified for Ministers to impose radical changes to the law because of unfounded claims from telecoms companies arguing that landowners are charging ransom rents. The proposals will allow future governments to conspire with multi-national communications giants to ride roughshod over the property rights of thousands of landowners throughout rural Britain.

This has been introduced at the eleventh hour without discussion and will cause concern and confusion. It cannot be right that the Government introduces around 60 pages of new legislation less than a week before it is to be debated in Parliament. It is scandalous that MPs will have only two limited chances to debate the implications of this before it is to become law.

We urge MPs to vote down these proposals that will give Ministers sweeping powers that are an assault on the free market. These have been given up to multi-national communications corporations in return for a wholly inadequate target for delivering affordable mobile coverage in rural communities.”

Naturally not all landowners are willing to share their land with telecoms firms and there have been cases where some have attempted to charge very high prices for access / wayleave agreements. But we’ve not seen much in the way of extensive research on this topic and equally there are plenty of landowners that have been happy to help, especially those that haven’t charged even a single penny to certain community efforts.

On the other hand the Government will no doubt be mindful of the delays to their related £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), which has also faced some administrative and cost issues with regards to land access. But at the same time it will be essential to overcome this age-old difficulty if rural areas are to benefit.

Back in 2012 the CLA warned that one possible reform of the ECC could result in rental payments for mast sites being slashed from “several thousand pounds a year, to the level of payment paid for a National Grid pylon” (i.e. currently between £87 and £147 a year). The lower costs could make expanding mobile coverage into rural areas more economically viable and thus attractive, although landowners clearly wouldn’t be pleased.

After this week’s debate it’s anticipated that the matter will be voted on during the Report Stage, which is due in only a few weeks’ time. It’s not uncommon for pre-General Election laws to be rushed.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Craig Brass says:

    This is a price worth paying for improved mobile coverage. The CLA want to have their cake (ie big payments for mobile sites) and eat it (ie improved mobile coverage) – sorry, you can’t have both!

  2. dragoneast says:

    Of course there are two sides to every story. Something we all (conveniently) forget. If we could legislate to make people reasonable, we’d only need one law.

  3. Matt says:

    I can see both sides of this argument but you can either have solid rural mobile phone coverage and low rents or high rents and patchy coverage these people need figure out what they actually want.

  4. Ignitionnet says:

    Clearly these guys ended up with this rural land thanks to a ‘free market’, right?

  5. FibreFred says:

    “could result in rental payments for mast sites being slashed from “several thousand pounds a year, to the level of payment paid for a National Grid pylon” (i.e. currently between £87 and £147 a year)”

    Why should payments be any different than a pylon, if anything a mobile mast is a lot less unsightly/smaller than a huge pylon

    Agree with Craig, its hard to feel too much sympathy, a constant cry for better broadband but then putting up resistance and they believe they should get a bigger slice of the pie, its a small rental charge not some cash cow.

  6. dragoneast says:

    So demand full mobile coverage, make sure the landowners get the compensation they expect, the companies and their shareholders won’t fund it without their return; and the rest of us will have to pick up the bill. And the politicians will claim all the credit.

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