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Lords Make Changes to Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020 (3:17 pm) - Score 4,090

The UK House of Lords has made a couple of key amendments to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill (here), which aims to make it significantly easier, quicker and cheaper for “gigabit-capable” broadband ISPs to access big apartment blocks (MDU) when “rogue landlords” fail to respond.

At present network operators (e.g. Openreach, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, Cityfibre etc.) often run into difficulty when attempting to contact landlords, such as while requesting permission to install a new service or offering to negotiate a long-term agreement on access (wayleave). Suffice to say that an unresponsive landlord can leave residents trapped on slower connections and the process for tackling this can be disproportionately expensive.

NOTE: The Government estimates that the existing process could have cost £14,000, which falls to £300 under the new approach – this will apply to the whole of the UK.

The new bill aims to tackle this via a number of measures, such as a significantly cheaper and faster route for dispute resolution via a new tribunal process. On top of that landlords will also face a greater obligation to help facilitate the deployment of digital infrastructure when they receive a request from their tenants.

Yesterday saw the bill reach the ‘Report‘ stage (here). The government were also defeated as two additional amendments ended up being voted through.

Amendment 1 (Moved by Lord Clement-Jones – LibDem)

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, after “premises” insert “(which include premises where a tenant is in exclusive possession)”

NOTE: This amendment would clarify that tenanted premises are included under the provisions of this bill.

Amendment 7 (Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara – Labour)

7: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause – “Review of this Act’s impact on the Electronic Communications Code…”

NOTE: This amendment would require the Secretary of State to commission a review of the impact of this Act on the Electronic Communications Code. This review, which would assess the code’s suitability to support universal access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025, could make recommendations for future amendments to the code.

The first amendment effectively expands the bill’s scope to include more renters, which is an area that the Government had previously shunned because of a fear that it could result in temporary inhabitants (e.g. lodgers or hostel residents) suddenly gaining significant new power over the infrastructure of a property. The Government’s representative, Baroness Barran, noted that the existing bill “already has within its scope many of those who rent by virtue of the term ‘lessee in occupation’“.

Meanwhile the second amendment forces the Government to review their legislation 6 months after it has become law, albeit while assessing whether or not it is “sufficient to support access to 1 gigabit per second broadband in every premises in the United Kingdom by 2025.” One issue here is that the Government don’t want to force everybody to only take a 1Gbps service as that may hinder some deployments and technology choices.

Baroness Barran (Conservative) said:

“This measure was designed from the outset to be a precision instrument that supports the 10 million people living in apartment blocks in the UK to access better broadband. It is on this point—the idea of better broadband—that I feel I should begin. We are confident that Part 4A orders will be used by operators predominantly to deliver gigabit-capable connections, as we discussed in Committee, but the Bill does not mention gigabit-capable networks. For that matter, it does not mention broadband, 5G or any type of connection. As noble Lords know, 1 gigabit connectivity is not tech-neutral; not all forms of broadband can deliver 1 gigabit per second of connectivity. For example, copper-based superfast connections would not be able to do that.

The Electronic Communications Code, of which the Bill will form a constituent part, does not mention broadband; nor does it mention any connection speed or anything about the technology installed. The Bill and the code are technology-neutral; I believe there was some confusion on this in Committee. To put that another way: the code deals with the how, where and when of deployment, not about what is installed. I am making this point again because technological neutrality is important, as it allows a consumer to get the connectivity they need from the operator they want at the best price.

None of this is to detract from noble Lords’ appetite to ensure that the Government are on track to deliver gigabit-capable connections, which is entirely understandable and reasonable. Many noble Lords will know that there are already ways in which some or all of the amendment’s effects can be achieved without the need for the amendment. I will give three examples.”

The bill will now go to a third reading in the House of Lords, before returning back for a final series of debates in the House of Commons. We suspect that the Government may then end up throwing out some of the amendments agreed by the Lords.

Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar joe

    I thought Amendment 3 was actually the more interesting…

    • I tend to only focus on those that get voted through because otherwise it’s too messy to write about all of the different changes. During any given bill lots of changes will be proposed and cast aside, but writing about all those would soon become monotonous.

    • Avatar joe

      Oh I understand that Mark. But in terms of the future copper switch off it would have had a bigger impact – and I suspect may happen in another bill

  2. Avatar Josh Welby

    Agreed
    But like you say, most of it might be thrown out by the House of Commons
    We will see what happens at the end

  3. Avatar JamesW

    They just need to get this done. It’s dragged on since October last year.
    The election then postponed it.

    Being a Director of an estate I have already signed for Hyperoptic, it’s now just a case of affording the £10’000 install cost.

    I’m a bit on the side of I can’t request the £250 from each flat for the install as some may not want it. But then I could try and work it into the budget over the year.

    Thankfully Hyperoptic split the bill over two instalments. The first £5’000 will get the ball rolling and then the site goes live after the second £5’000 is paid.

    • Avatar JamesW

      Signed the wayleave*

    • Avatar New Build

      Hi James, why are you having to pay for an install cost?
      Are you aware that Virgin Media not only connect a site for free but also pay a rebate to cover any potential costs you may incur?

  4. Avatar Neb

    Any estimates on when this is likely to come into effect assume it goes through ok?

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