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Government MPs Urge UK Councils to Support Gigabit Broadband

Thursday, August 27th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 2,234
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The UK Government has today called on local authorities to help support the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband (FTTP, DOCSIS 3.1) and 5G mobile networks by, among other things, implementing new advice on land access and valuations in order to speed up the pace of deployment.

The reformed Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which was introduced at the end of 2017 (here), was supposed to make it easier and cheaper for telecoms operators to access public and private land in order to build new networks. Unfortunately it ended up creating a lot of disputes between operators and land / property owners (example), which have bogged down the tribunal system.

Some of those issues have since been resolved, although when it comes to public land the Government claims that “some deals are not progressing quickly enough.” Councils are generally obliged to get the “best value” when agreeing land access agreements, but ministers now want them to take into account “non-monetary benefits,” such as enhanced connectivity for residents to work from home and SMEs to trade online (this could make it easier for operators to install kit on wider public estates, rooftops or other sites etc.).

The new guidance, which has been issued by Matt Warman (Digital Minister) and Simon Clarke (Local Government Minister), also highlights recent legal interpretations of the current framework, which indicate reductions in previous rents are to be expected (though they still seek “reasonable rents” for 5G masts and “full fibre” broadband cabinets on public land).

NOTE: The land valuations guidance updates existing advice available to local authorities to reflect tribunal determinations on valuation that have been published since the 2017 reforms to the ECC came into effect. On top of that it explains the different approaches that can be taken to the renewal of existing agreements.

The letter also emphasises the impact councillors and senior non-elected officials can have to drive forward strategies for getting better connectivity in local areas and encouraging a more joined-up approach between highways, legal, estates and digital teams (some examples of this have already been seen in Cambridgeshire, Kent and the West Midlands 5G project).

On top of this a “plain English guide” to 5G has been created to help councils answer questions and manage any concerns around any “unfounded” health implications of 5G, which follows a spate of attacks against broadband and mobile infrastructure by conspiracy theorist during the COVID-19 crisis. The government, via Ofcom and Public Health England, are keen to stress that 5G should have “no consequences to public health” (see our 5G Fact Check).

Matt Warman, UK Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said:

“We want to help people get access to fast and reliable connectivity. It is a top priority for this government.

Councils have a vital role to play in the rollout of digital infrastructure and while there is good work going on up and down the country, there is more we can do.

Today I’m writing to local authorities with new guidance and advice to help them break down some of the barriers to rollout and give them the tools they need to quell quack theories about 5G.”

Hamish Macleod, Director of trade body Mobile UK, said:

“The updated valuation guidance published by the Government will give councils the confidence to bring wider community benefits, such as enhanced mobile coverage, to their communities. From an industry perspective, it means adding public assets, often located in ideal locations for radio signal broadcast, into the mix to assist in the rapid rollout of world-class mobile connectivity.”

Finally, the ministers are also asking councils to appoint a “digital champion” to work across multiple teams to ensure a cohesive digital infrastructure strategy and encouraging authorities to use central government’s (DCMS) dedicated “barrier busting” team, which is charged with removing the obstacles to roll-out and has been doing quite a good job of it.

As usual the councils will have to balance this desire for quicker delivery and more flexibility with pressure from their constituents. Not everybody likes having new telecoms infrastructure built near their property and objections to planning applications can be quite common.

The Government are of course already in the process of trying to soften the rules for Permitted Development (PD) rights and the ECC in England, which among other things could make it easier to upgrade existing masts or to build taller masts and related broadband infrastructure (here).

All of this should help to support the Government’s £5bn commitment to roll-out gigabit-capable broadband across the final 20% of the hardest to reach premises (mostly rural) by the end of 2025 (here). Not to mention the £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) project, which aims to help extend geographic 4G cover to 95% of the UK by the same date.

Land valuations guidance
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/digital-connectivity-portal

Plain English guide to 5G
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/resources-for-local-authorities#g-technologies-radio-waves-and-health

UPDATE 4:46pm

Just a little example of what Cambridgeshire did.

Local Authority Statement

Connecting Cambridgeshire was among the first in the country to set up a dedicated Enabling Digital Delivery (EDD) service to remove barriers to the delivery of future-proof digital connectivity, with additional funding from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority. The team facilitates private sector investment for full fibre networks and next generation mobile phone coverage across the area.

The EDD service is working with network providers, telecoms operators, housing developers, and council teams to resolve a wide range of fixed and mobile infrastructure issues including wayleaves, street works permits, and infrastructure problems and planning.

The service is being used as an exemplar for other local authorities, and has developed a Streetworks Guide to share learning and best practice about working collaboratively with contractors to maximise efficient use of resources and minimise conflicts, delay and costs.

The service is also providing key transport, business and housing data to help network providers plan future investments and working with major housing developers to ensure full fibre and mobile connectivity is planned for new housing developments that would otherwise have had poor coverage.

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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
13 Responses
  1. Guy Cashmore says:

    Devon and Somerset Councils still haven’t successfully contracted BDUK Phase 2 for most of the two counties, asking them to ‘speed up’ is a joke frankly!

    1. Optical says:

      It’s just as bad in BANES, Bath & North Est Somerset.

    2. Somerset says:

      Truespeed busy in BANES.

    3. Optical says:

      Somerset:Such a lack of interest for Truespeed in my village,personally I would perfer Cityfbre to start breaking ground here.

    4. Somerset says:

      If people don’t want Truespeed, why would Cityfibre invest?

  2. Pezza says:

    No idea what Dorset council are doing with regards to this, they recently merged councils together, maybe you know Mark being a fellow Dorset resident?

  3. jet14 says:

    If the councils stopped wasting money on poxy schemes and paid their managers less and got rid of fat cats and bureaucracy then things would move ahead quicker, also the bbc tv license should be abolished, why isnt the british public getting up and protesting like they do in Europe for any odd thing !!! We dont watch TV and we dont want our money being used lavishly by the bbc with super high salaries and all the trimmings living off poor and oap’s tv funds, shame on all of you !!! No democracy left in this uk…

    1. Gary says:

      If you don’t watch TV then you shouldn’t be paying a licence fee, and if that’s the case your opinion on the value of said licence fee and the salaries paid by the BBC are irrelevant as they’re not spending any of your money lavishly or not.

      While our democratic process may not be perfect , your last statement is complete BS.

    2. Pezza says:

      @Gary, is your last bake Lineker?

    3. Pezza says:

      @Gary, I meant to say is your last name Lineker?

  4. Alex Atkin says:

    Gotta love the government telling councils what to do about money, while at the same time demanding they cut costs.

    You can’t have it both ways, if the government are going to cut funding to councils then expect them to try to claw that back elsewhere in rental fees.

  5. David Burns - UKWISPA says:

    Strange that you didn’t include Fixed Wireless Access in your list of technologies for delivering gigabit broadband…

    Terragraph and other systems can give multi-gigabit connections and complement fibre services very well. For the UK to achieve gigabit coverage everywhere at a sensible cost in a reasonable timeframe, hybrid networks will be fundamental.

    1. Richard Worth says:

      +1

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