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New UK Rules to Spread Gigabit Broadband into Big Buildings

Thursday, October 10th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 2,490
high rise buildings london by javad amirian on unsplash

The UK Government has today proposed a solution as part of the outcome from their recent consultation, which sought a new way of making it easier for “gigabit-capable” broadband ISPs and mobile network operators to access buildings – usually big apartment blocks (Multi-Dwelling Units) – where “rogue landlords” fail to respond.

At present some operators (Openreach, Virgin Media, Cityfibre, Hyperoptic etc.) who wish to access an existing building – specifically large residential apartment blocks (MDU) – have often struggled to extend their coverage because landlords don’t always respond to such requests or may refuse access, which can leave residents trapped on slower connections.

Admittedly some landlords do have legitimate concerns about damage to property, liability (e.g. health and safety rules) and low rental payments, among other things. Nevertheless there are also plenty of cases where there may be no real negative to an operator wanting to improve the broadband connectivity of a building, except getting permission.

As Openreach’s CEO, Clive Selley, said last year (here): “One obstacle we face is with the owners of big buildings … it’s tough in London to work out who owns buildings and contact them, it’s quite unique as its an international city and buildings are owned by people across the planet. I worry that some connections could take years if the building owners don’t come forward.”

In response the Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which was published last July, proposed several changes and two related consultations followed as part of the Budget 2018 announcement. These proposed to mandate Gigabit capable broadband connections for new build homes and would make it easier for network operators to access buildings when landlords fail to respond.

Proposals for New Build Homes and Tenants (Both Consultations)

* Amending the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) to place an obligation on landlords to facilitate the deployment of digital infrastructure when they receive a request from their tenants.

* Enabling communications providers to use magistrates courts to gain entry to properties where a landlord fails to respond to requests for improved or new digital infrastructure.

* Developers and network operators share the cost of connecting new build sites to gigabit-capable networks.

* Introducing a “duty to connect” provision upon network operators.

* Amending Building Regulations Approved Document Part R: (Physical infrastructure for high-speed electronic communications networks). This will mean all new build sites will be built with the necessary infrastructure in place to support gigabit-capable networks.

Both consultations concluded at the end of December 2018, although today we’ve only been given the outcome to the first consultation into access for existing buildings. As above, the plan here is to create a “cheaper and faster process for telecoms companies to get access rights“; it will ONLY apply when a landlord has repeatedly failed to respond to requests for access to install a connection that a tenant within the building has asked for.

In such situations broadband network operators will gain a cheaper and more streamlined route via the existing Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) to connect the property, lowering the timescale to enter a property from 6 months to a matter of weeks, and at a “drastically reduced cost.” All of this will require new legislation to amend the Electronic Communications Code (ECC).

Part 4 of the existing ECC allows operators to apply to a tribunal for provisional rights to enter a property and install infrastructure, but operators often don’t use this because of the high cost, time and uncertainty of eventual result. Under the new system operators will only have to wait 42 days before making an application to use the new process (i.e. ensuring they have sent a sufficient number of notices and made serious attempts to gain access).

NOTE: The Government estimates that the existing process could have cost £14,000, which falls to just £300 under the new approach.

Nicky Morgan MP, UK Digital Secretary, said:

“We’re pushing ahead with delivering the digital infrastructure that will underpin the UK’s future growth and boost our productivity.

We’ve just announced £5 billion so that people in rural communities will get gigabit speed internet at the same time as everyone else.

And we’re now making sure people living in blocks of flats and apartments are not left behind either, and can reap the huge benefits of the fastest and most resilient internet connections.”

David Smith, Policy Director for the Residential Landlords Association, said:

“We recognise how important it is that tenants should have access to high speed broadband. It is in a landlord’s interests to be able to offer it as it makes their properties more attractive to prospective tenants.

The RLA will work constructively with the Government to ensure that any difficulties in implementing enhanced access rights are addressed such as broadband companies ensuring they have the right contact details for a landlord.”

The Government estimates that as many as 3,000 extra residential buildings a year could be connected as a result of this change. The UK is home to an estimated 480,000 blocks of flats or apartments but many of those do have landlords who respond.

However we should caveat that landlords, assuming they suddenly decide to wake-up and respond, will still be able to challenge the making of such an order. As such it remains to be seen how many will opt to obstruct such work and thus prevent their residents from gaining access to the fastest broadband speeds.

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“This new law is something Virgin Media has long called for – it breaks through a major broadband barrier as we invest to bring gigabit speeds to our entire, ever-growing network. Giving broadband builders clear and efficient access rights will mean the many forgotten flats across the country can get the next-generation connectivity they deserve.”

Greg Mesch, Chief Executive Officer of CityFibre, said:

“We are pleased to see the Government supporting competitive builders of digital infrastructure as they build momentum to deliver the target of national full fibre coverage by 2025. As a company committed to rolling out more than 20% of the target, CityFibre welcomes all barrier busting initiatives that help to accelerate the rate of build.”

Overall this represents very good news for consumers and the broadband sector alike, although it’s disappointing that the Government hasn’t yet set out any changes for new build developments. As we understand it, DCMS is still intending to legislate on the new build issue so that every new home in the UK is constructed with “gigabit-capable” connections in mind and we’re expecting an outcome to this before Christmas.

Just to give a sense of scale, Openreach’s response noted that they currently struggle to access around 80% of premises within their City of London build, which falls to around 30% in the London suburbs.

What’s not so clear in all this is how long it will take the Government to implement everything that has been proposed above, particularly given Brexit’s on-going tendency to hog parliamentary time.

UPDATE 7:20am

You can now read the full Government response (here), which adds a bit of extra context and suggests that another consultation will be needed in order to iron out the details of what happens once an ordered agreement for access has been won by an operator. The key bit of text is below.

Extract from Government Response

The Government intends to legislate so that as an effect of the application to the Tribunal being successfully sought by an operator, an agreement will be imposed on the operator and the landlord. Regulations made under the primary legislation will set out the terms of the agreement and we intend to consult on what those terms will be before making those regulations. Likely subject areas to be covered in those regulations include:

○ restrictions on the operator’s right to enter on the land to certain times;

○ requirements relating to the manner in which the operator carries out works;

○ requirements on the operator relating to insurance cover.

The policy seeks to balance the interests of landlords and operators, as well as tenants. Not least, this is done by the fact that the interim Code rights will only be available to an operator for a limited time. Furthermore, the operator will only have a limited period – to be specified in regulations and upon which Government will consider consulting – following the final warning notice to a landlord in which operators can apply for interim Code rights. We hope that in due course this will increase the response rate to requests for access and support tenants’ access to high quality networks.

UPDATE 10:05am

Added a comment from Hyperoptic.

Dana Tobak CBE, Hyperoptic MD and CEO, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We welcome the new legislation, which will help residents, particularly in large urban areas, gain access to superfast full fibre broadband. We’re very proud of our engineering work force, who are highly skilled and trained to ensure we have top quality installations.

We hope that other operators using these new rules are equally stringent in their compliance of best practice in health and safety, and in particular in fire safety – so that they’re as committed to protecting their staff and the residents as we are.”

Leave a Comment
17 Responses
  1. Avatar James W

    So has this been made law yet?

    Has anyone got a link to the legal text? Feel this might rub the property director up to get his backside in gear.

    • As the article says, they’ll need to amend the ECC first and that hasn’t happened yet. Obviously right now Brexit is dominating everything, although the proposed tweak should be a fairly easy one to get through.

    • Avatar James W

      Hopefully. As I have been battling getting fibre installed for over 2 years now.

  2. Avatar Jonny

    Are there any proposals to bring down the costs of wayleaves? We have clients that have been asked to pay £2k to their landlord to get a wayleave, and usually this is phrased as being legal fees. It seems that people are using the process as a way to generate income.

  3. Avatar Neb

    Not long now…

    Btw what was the used definition of high rise? 12+ premises 50+ ???

  4. Avatar A_Builder

    £5bn + getting rid of a big barrier.

    Some joined thinking here.

    Serious risk of this solving a big part of the FTTP problem.

  5. Avatar TheTruth

    Don’t agree with changing the law, its up to the landlord if they want to allow 3rd party companies into it. People who live in these buildings may agree with the law change this time for their broadband but what happens next time when the change isn’t in their interest they will soon be throwing their toys out of the pram. If you don’t like the landlord you can always move.

    • Avatar obidom

      the fac tis fater connections can command higher rental prices so its in the landlords interest to let the network be installed.

      I have seen cases where tenants have installed the service and when they leave the landlord has insisted the network be fully removed, this all comes at a cost to the ISP/CP who installs it and ends up with propertyies being blacklisted for FTTP rollouts meaning tenants cannot get high speed connection rates yet being unable to move out due to the habit of letting agents quoting silly figures for what is in effect 5 minutes work.

      The landlords will soon see decreaign rental yields as tenants become savvier down the line when moving into FTTP enabled site and find the property is NOT FTTP connected they wont move in

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Whilst the landlord may gain if the building has good broadband they must be protected against arbitrary structural damage and long term liabilities such as compromised fire barriers in risers etc. We have enough problems with street works reinstatement so it comes down to quality and not taking short cuts particularly for a minority of residents.

      For new dwellings broadband ducting/trunking should be mandatory as should water and electricity but for older buildings insistence on FTTH could be very disruptive and in some cases permanently detrimental.

      So whilst legislation should assist landlord/freeholder ownership identification and mandatory engagement my view is that due consideration and reasonableness should be given to the technical options available for the building including FTTB G.fast, Ethernet over Coax etc utilising existing infrastructure to provide Ultra/Giga if new ducting/cabling would be damaging.

    • Avatar beany

      Agree with you entirely Meadmodj. Also more simple situations than that will arise where if BT, VM or whomever comes and installs fibre for a resident. You will get PITA residents that feel like their freshly painted wall, the actual plasterboard wall or whatever has been damaged and they will go chasing the landlord expecting their entire house/flat to be redecorated at the landlords cost because they will not get any joy from the people that installed it.

      Property rental is a double edged sword you get landlords that do not like to do anything or allow anything and you get tenants that expect landlords to do everything for them short of wiping their backsides.

      Whilst i support the idea of making infrastructure providers life easier to access the buildings i hope whatever laws they come up with have exact details on who of the 3 parties involved are responsible for what.

  6. Avatar Londoner

    This is a welcome change.
    The mobile operators demanded free access (or virtually free access) to builing roofs to put base stations on – Hancock changed the Code when Minister and it has backfired.

  7. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    Whilst you can deal with landlords of big MDUs, a much bigger problem is dealing with the tens of thousands of small landlords, many of whom are registered offshore. There is no way that the network operators will spend huge amounts of time tracking these people down, so a lot of MDUs have no cabling for fast broadband. Virgin Media says that there are two million flats in the UK within 25m of their network of which 750,000 could be connected with only a small amount of civils. Anything which makes access possible has to be applauded.

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