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Landowners Call for UK Government Deal on Broadband Infrastructure

Friday, January 27th, 2017 (3:22 pm) - Score 1,104

The Country Land and Business Association has today pledged to work with “fibre broadband” infrastructure providers in order to agree a new wayleave deal for better access across private land, but only if the Government “proves its commitment” to improving rural broadband connectivity.

At present landowners in England and Wales are concerned (here and here) about the Government’s on-going work to revise the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) via the new Digital Economy Bill 2017, which aside from removing barriers for new broadband and mobile infrastructure could also result in them receiving lower rental income than today and having less control over their own land.

The situation has put the CLA in a tricky position. On the one hand they’re keen to act as consumer champions for the pursuit of better connectivity, yet their remit is to protect the very land that allows such connectivity to be deployed. Finding the right balance isn’t going to be easy and meanwhile operators won’t deploy into remote areas if the cost dramatically outweighs any benefit.

However the Government’s new Industrial Strategy and its related call for input on the deployment of more “full fibre” (FTTP/H) broadband infrastructure (here) is something that the CLA sees as an opportunity.

Charles Trotman, CLA Senior Business and Economics Adviser, said:

“This consultation marks a major departure from previous government policy on improving connectivity and is in line with many recommendations made by the CLA on the future of rural broadband.

We fully support the Government’s commitment to full fibre roll out to improve broadband and mobile coverage. This latest push must end the long running rural-urban divide once and for all. We are looking for government and industry to set out more specific plans that show where and when digital infrastructure will be upgraded in rural areas. We are also calling for a new marketing effort to ensure rural home and business owners are aware when new connections become available.

If the Government follows through on the commitment it is setting out, the CLA is prepared to work with the industry to negotiate an overarching wayleave agreement between landowners and infrastructure providers for access to deliver a network of underground fixed lines. Such a deal has the potential to dramatically advance broadband provision in rural areas.”

A wayleave agreement represents a legal written consent, which allows infrastructure providers access to carry out work on privately owned land. The industry has already done a lot of work to develop a more standardised approach, but high rental costs and the loss of control over land is still quite a big bugbear to overcome.

Interestingly the CLA doesn’t spell out precisely what sort of plan would be enough to meet their requirements, although their recent Rural Business 2030 report did offer a few hints (see below). Clearly they want a bit more than the proposed 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) and the Broadband Delivery UK programme’s existing commitment to make “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) available to 97% of premises by 2020.

CLA Rural Business 2030 Report

Deliver universal mobile coverage – place stringent conditions on mobile operators as part of tenders for the 700mhz spectrum auction taking place in 2018 to ensure maximum mobile data coverage in rural areas.

Promote new approaches to funding connections for the most remote communities – build on existing best practice in encouraging home and business owners in a location outside of the reach of broadband roll out schemes to pool vouchers in a way that will fund a better, more robust solution for the whole community. In order to help businesses to decide whether to consider co-financing projects, BT Openreach and other providers must be more transparent and long term in setting out their roll out plans.

Ensure local businesses can become internet suppliers – encourage rural business owners who invest in putting in place their own broadband connection such as fibre-to-premises to become local suppliers using technologies such as local wi-fi networks and ensure their position in the market is secure.

Establish new investment models for better connections – explore new models for rural businesses to invest in fibre connections for their own premises, the mobile network providers should be encouraged to rent these connections to help them build their data networks (especially under 5G).

Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    Generous of the CLA to offer to “work with the industry to negotiate an overarching wayleave agreement between landowners and infrastructure providers for access to deliver a network of underground fixed lines”. I note its last attempt at a wayleaves agreement took years and went nowhere, hopefully this won’t suffer the same fate,

    You have to question why land owners want to be paid when the availability of fibre broadband improves the value of their land assets and any buildings. Do they really need to squabble over annual payments too? And why specify underground fixed lines? Surely that’s a matter for the network providers and not them?

    1. Avatar Chris says:

      @New_Londoner – “Get off me land city boy”.

      Farmers are a canny lot but farming is a hard business so they need to make money where they can. It is only right for the CLA to push for the best deal it can get. Of course this does not help people in remote communities get connected so there needs to be a stick as well as a carrot. Would you be happy for somebody to come and dig up your garden to lay cables for somebody else’s benefit? How about running high voltage power cables across your garden? It is not unreasonable for land owners to expect something back in my opinion but it needs to be balanced with the national interest of rolling out new infrastructure.

      C.

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      But they aren’t running cables across their gardens are they? There is a huge difference between somebody’s few tens of square metres or private space and a field. In any event, there are many people who have power and electric cables crossing their gardens to neighbours’ houses and even some services, like mains drainage, often go via neighbouring properties.

    3. Avatar Chris says:

      @ Steve Jones

      Yes, there is a difference between a garden and a field. A field is usually part of a business, it is working land that needs to be maintained, it needs to earn its keep – a garden is for growing daises. I don’t object to land owners trying to make money any way they can. You have to remember that while some land is owned by rich estates and the like, other land is owned by small farms that struggle to survive. As I said earlier there needs to be a balance where national interests are taken into account while providing a fair deal for land owners.

      C.

    4. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @Chris
      “Farmers are a canny lot but farming is a hard business so they need to make money where they can”

      Actually I could argue that some landowners, including some farmers, are pretty stupid when it comes to wayleaves. By holding out for ridiculous terms that deter investment, they miss out on fast connectivity that increases the value of their land, improves the productivity of their core business and makes it feasible to host other businesses in units on the land. Surely this is more farsighted that trying to maximise the wayleave payment?

  2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    @Chris

    Nobody is talking about not paying compensation for when land can’t be used for its intended purpose, but land isn’t ultimately owned by individuals (constitutionally it is all ultimately crown property) and with it comes duties. For instance, maintenance of right of ways. Farmers are also often in receipt of state subsidies and also don’t pay the same level of business rates that others do. They also have special concessions on fuel duty.

    When the land owners are making a case for state subsidy of rural broadband they can’t reasonably expect to make as much money as possible out of wayleaves. Perhaps you ought to read the related story on hold ups in Wales due in part to difficulties over negotiating wayleaves.

  3. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Of course it isn’t just the farmers is it? A lot of jobs depend on property transactions, not least surveyors and lawyers (and perhaps, more important, their support services – even IT consultants) whose fees are a percentage of the “price”. (Pension funds are big landowners too, and we all have those, eventually). As a small island scarce “land” is our biggest business. The Government’s “industrial strategy” is conflicted too.

    (On a more general point, do any of us ever think of the consequences?)

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