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UPD Shropshire Land Agency Criticises Wireless Broadband Land Access Contracts

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017 (12:05 pm) - Score 1,849

The Director of Halls, Shaun Jones (Chartered Surveyor), has claimed the contracts that landowners in Shropshire are being asked to sign with wireless ISP Airband, which won the deal to roll-out a 30Mbps+ broadband network to 14,000 premises, leave “too much scope for future problems.”

The Phase 2b deployment contract, which was recently signed as part of the local Connecting Shropshire project (here), aims to help ensure that 98% of premises in the county will be put within reach of a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) network by the middle of 2020. The funding for this is split between Airband (£1.4m), Shropshire Council (£2.24m), Broadband Delivery UK (£5.29m) and the Marches LEP (£2.27m).

Under this approach the ISP plans to spend the next 3 years building a network of masts, which will then feed their fixed wireless broadband connectivity to small antennas that can be installed on the outside of local homes and businesses. The roll-out will be cheaper than upgrading existing fixed line infrastructure.

airband network

As usual two of the challenges with building any new network, especially one that may need access to private land (e.g. elevated rural land that overlooks local communities, trees etc.), is with both gaining planning permission for the installation of new masts and securing the necessary wayleaves / land access agreements with private landowners.

The mast themselves can vary in size, although Airband plan a number of 24 metre high steel lattice masts, each of which will feature several radio mountings between 3m and 24m (see picture at the bottom). Airband’s mapping department generally take time to assess the local area, avoid local heritage sites and article 2 land and endeavour to mount the bare minimum level of equipment required to meet the desired level of coverage.

However Shaun Jones (Chartered Surveyor) has warned that landowners who agree to host such equipment on their land, for a term of 10 years, could be at risk because the terms may not cover the potential for future problems (Shropshire Star). The agreements, which include a rent level and potential for a broadband connection, usually only involve a very small piece of land.

Shaun Jones said:

“My only concern is that the written document proposed is brief which leaves too much scope for future problems. More detail can protect both parties.

It is vitally important that a rent review provision with the correct frequency and basis is agreed. Another crucial point is that, at the end of the lease, the equipment is removed and the site fully reinstated.

These types of agreement, where a rent will be paid, start off with both parties being content. If the operator, however, sells the business during the 10-year term of the lease, the landlord could end up with a tenant who is less reasonable. It is a case of striking the right balance when negotiating terms and concluding the paperwork.”

Certainly there’s plenty of merit in getting contracts of this sort checked over, although it’s also worth remembering that Mr Jones has a clear vested interest in attracting business for his company. In keeping with that he makes a point of saying that they’ve “negotiated improved rent terms” on similar developments.

Additional legal complications can sadly also result in delays to the roll-out and higher deployment costs for the operator, which might in some areas even prevent the network from being built. A balance always has to be struck between the need for better local connectivity and the landowner’s desire for extra income. We have asked for Airband’s thoughts and are awaiting their response.

Last we forget that the new Digital Economy Act 2017 included some controversial reforms to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which should make it easier and cheaper for network operators to roll-out new broadband and telecoms infrastructure (masts, cables etc.) on public and private land. A report in Farmers Weekly recently suggested that the number of landowners seeking to remove operators from their property had increased by at least 30% due to fears over the code’s impact (the code is due to be enforced from early 2018).

Speaking of which, it looks as if one of the first Planning Application’s for a new Airband mast has recently been submitted (here) and so far only one person is objecting: “We wish to object to this application on the grounds of Intrusive development into open countryside, which is in a prominent position so will be visible for miles . If it must go ahead could it not be disguised as a tree as we have seen in other parts of the country?

Credits to local broadband campaigner, Patrick Cosgrove, for pointing this out to us.

airband mast diagram

UPDATE 27th Sept 2017 – 4:03pm

Added a remark about the impact of the new ECC. Credits to William Perrin for that.

UPDATE 29th Sept 2017

We have the following response from Airband.

Dave Lloyd, Airband’s Project Manager, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Here at Airband we’re delighted that we’ve won the contract to get rural and hard-to-reach areas of Shropshire connected to Superfast broadband. The project is all about working with communities to deliver this Council-led initiative by the end of 2019.

Our contracts cover the needs of everybody and everything – including the points raised by Mr Jones – and we’re confident that Airband’s eight years’ experience working with land owners, land agents and solicitors, will stand us in good stead.

We hope too that the format we’ve chosen for presenting the agreement makes it easy for landowners to understand the terms without the need of a solicitor or land agent. Of course, landowners are able to seek external advice should they desire.

We are conscious that we’re working with a fixed budget and time frame and our focus is to make sure that we create an infrastructure that enables the maximum number of rural areas to access Superfast broadband at the same time as protecting the interests of the landowners who are hosting the equipment.

Whilst we have successfully worked with many land agents and solicitors on hundreds of land owner agreements, this is our first experience of working with Halls. We are happy to continue to develop this relationship for the benefit of the community.”

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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
5 Responses
    1. Mark Jackson says:

      I’ll certainly keep an eye out for the annual accounts now.

  1. Redmond Peel says:

    Thank you for the interest in AIrbands accounts. Full accounts were provided to contracting Counties more than 6 months ago, so they were able to move forward in knowledge. The accounts show no increase in debt and consistent profitability with previous years, no shocks I’m afraid. The delay is due to extra due diligence around the accounting requirements for state aid based contracts (a speciality area). Airband, Director.

  2. Mike says:

    Thank you for your Response Redmond, as a public limited company using state aid finances could you provide a copy of these account to help us have the confidence that the councils have or should we put a freedom of information request into the council?

    And why all your previous companies have ‘Dissolved’

    SERV-IT LIMITED – 03658920
    U.K. PORTALS LIMITED – 04091137
    DIG-E-WORLD LIMITED – 03996372
    AIRBAND LIMITED – 04659318


  3. Mike says:

    We have created a map so you can see Airbands current planning applications – http://j.mp/2gu1t09 with links to the planning details

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