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Bill to Spread Gigabit Broadband into Big Buildings Gets Support

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 (8:24 am) - Score 1,767
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The new UK Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill, which aims to make it significantly easier, quicker and cheaper for “gigabit-capable” broadband ISPs and telecoms firms to access big apartment blocks (MDU) where “rogue landlords” fail to respond, received broad support in yesterday’s 2nd reading.

Currently, on identifying a property in their network build area, operators (e.g. Openreach, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, Cityfibre etc.) will attempt to contact landlords, request permission to install, and offer to negotiate a long-term agreement on access. Those wayleaves set out the responsibilities of both the landlord and operator in respect of the installation.

Sadly landlords don’t always respond to such requests for access to install new infrastructure, which can leave residents trapped on slower connections (e.g. ADSL). As the UK Digital Minister, Matt Warman MP, said yesterday: “Evidence from operators suggests that across the UK’s major digital infrastructure providers, about 40% of requests for access issued by operators receive no response. That cannot be acceptable.”

The existing Electronic Communications Code (ECC) includes a process that operators could pursue in order to resolve such situations, but it was almost never used due to being both slow and hugely expensive (potentially £14,000 – wrecking the economic case for a roll-out).

As such the new bill proposes to tackle this by amending the ECC to include a new legal process. Under this system operators would 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 – the new system is considered a last resort). Equally the cost would come down to about £300.

NOTE: The new Bill will apply to the whole of the UK because telecommunications is a reserved power.

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 and thankfully many of those have landlords who do respond when such a request is made. Check out our full summary of the bill for more.

The New Bill

The bill itself was formally introduced to parliament on 8th January 2020, after being announced last October 2019, although yesterday’s 2nd reading was the first in which a proper debate on the subject was allowed. Overall the bill appeared to receive broad support during the debate and there were no significant detractors.

Matt Warman MP, UK Minister for Digital, said:

“Superfast broadband facilitated the original internet that we are so familiar with, and gigabit will do so much more. It will support older people in staying independent for longer, will allow people to work how and where they choose to a much greater extent, and will make sure that commuters can join up their life in a much more effective way.

However, the benefits for businesses and consumers can be realised only if digital infrastructure providers such as Openreach, Virgin Media, CityFibre and many others—increasingly more — can access homes, workplaces and public buildings such as hospitals and train stations. It is for that reason that this Government have made the deployment of gigabit broadband one of our key priorities.

With this Bill, we are taking the first hammer blow to the barriers preventing the deployment of gigabit connectivity. We will similarly take aim at new-build homes that are being built without access to futureproof connections, and we are exploring how we can make it easier for digital infrastructure providers to share the infrastructure of others, and how we can promote 5G mobile services by simplifying the planning regime.”

Despite receiving plenty of support, a number of MPs did raise important points and concerns about its future implementation. For example, Daisy Cooper MP (St Albans, LibDem) pointed out that the new tribunal process might lack the “capacity and resources to process those applications and ensure that they go through.”

In response Matt Warman said he would “explore every option to ensure that the tribunal gets those resources … we will make sure that it does.” Such tribunals do tend to get bogged down in cases and that can lead to massive delays – much as we’ve seen with existing land access cases – and thus this is an important consideration.

Meanwhile Tracy Brabin MP (Batley and Spen – Lab Co-op) warned that telecom companies “should not be allowed to fleece residents by locking them into dependence on a single provider, nor should they be allowed to crowd out smaller competitors.” Tracy then asked what the minister could do to guarantee that this will not happen.

In response Matt Warman merely said that the Government would “continue to be flexible where we can be” while the bill evolves, although he pointed out that the bill is a bespoke process and that “we need to bear in mind the fact that digital infrastructure will become progressively more vital, as well as the question of how we line up the appropriate regimes.”

As people who live in big apartment blocks already know, you often have a limited choice of connectivity types and providers, although many buildings already tend to give access to both Virgin Media and Openreach’s network. The choice of ISPs depends upon both the operators that have entered the building, their supported technologies (FTTC vs FTTP etc.) and how open access (or not) their networks are.

Overall it looks like the bill will probably get a fairly easy ride through the usual political process. We now wait to see when the Government will introduce their next and somewhat more delayed policy, which aims to ensure that gigabit-broadband is being facilitated by nearly all new build home developments (this was expected last year).

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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
12 Responses
  1. TheTruth says:

    This could become a joke, It should only be allowed to be used once per MDU otherwise all providers could use it on a single MDU and that would be a nightmare.

    1. joe says:

      There’d be no commercial case for so many providers. Its self policing.

  2. NE555 says:

    Does this only cover cases where landlords “fail to respond”? What if a landlord responds and refuses permission outright, or will only grant permission in return for a huge fee?

    1. A_Builder says:

      @ NE55 The Tribunal should be able to adjudicate on a reasonable fee.

      @ TheTruth it cannot be a single provider lock-in otherwise residents might suffer. The Tribunal should be able to exercise discretion where there is “adequate provision” ie OR and a couple of Alt Nets or VM so there is a choice from 3 wholesales providers should do it.

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      At present the focus is on tackling landlords that fail to respond, effectively forcing them into life. Existing processes exist for tackling refusals but that too could do with more consideration and we’ll have to see if anybody recommends such an amendment.

  3. Meadmodj says:

    This ensures engagement with the landlord. It does not give providers unrestricted access and outlines what the provider needs to do including restoration by the operator “to the reasonable satisfaction of the required grantor”.

    Once a provider has enabled a particular MDU for Full Fibre other providers are unlikely to join in unless the task is straightforward.

  4. Roger_Gooner says:

    VM has stated that unanswered requests for wayleaves are “particularly prevalent amongst local authorities and other public landlords”. There are other problems such as some private landlords who are overseas and unresponsive to boot, so are effectively absentee landlords. This is completely unacceptable so this bill is welcome.

    1. TheTruth says:

      If tenants don’t like their landlords policies they could always move.

      Its forcing through something a landlord may not want for THEIR properties, remember that if ever the government wants to compulsory purchase your property for minimum cost.

    2. Malcolm says:

      Yes Southwark Council as far as I know have still to respond to wayleave requests from BT

  5. Freedom345 says:

    The private ownership of land in UK is long gone if it ever existed. This is the new communism and it is ugly for freedom.

    1. CarlT says:

      Of all the things that are ‘ugly for freedom’ you pipe up to talk about communism related to this?



  6. Carl Conrad says:

    Interesting comments. “The Truth” has failed to grasp the situation. By leasehold, we are talking about flat owners who take a lease of usually 125 but sometimes 999 years. They are – like renters – called “tenants” under the law but their position is wholly different.

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