A few months ago the Government’s Digital Minister, Margot James MP, warned that some UK telecoms (mobile and broadband) operators were pushing land / building owners into accepting “derisory payments” for access to install their infrastructure (wayleave agreements). Today the situation is still far from resolved.
In previous years it was landowners who took much of the blame for disrupting the roll-out of new broadband and mobile networks, not least by creating disputes over complex wayleave agreements, which could sometimes make it far too difficult or far too expensive for operators to expand their coverage (particularly when targeting digitally disadvantaged rural communities).
However the reformed Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which was introduced at the end of 2017 (here), was supposed to change all that by making it easier and cheaper for telecoms operators to access public or private land in order to build new networks. All of this is necessary in order to help the Government reach their goals for better 4G / 5G mobile coverage and “full fibre” (FTTP) availability (here).
Initially there was some push-back by landowners, many of which were wary of being forced into accepting much lower rents (i.e. closer to what utility providers pay today), but eventually most of the key players appeared to reach a shared position (here and here).
Starting to Go Wrong
Everything appeared to be moving along normally until it became clear during the autumn that some telecoms operators were dramatically cutting the rents they pay on infrastructure. For example, some rents on greenfield sites that would have previously attracted c.£5,000 a year or more have been cut to under £10 and other farmers have seen deals fall from £12,000/year to £50/year.
A near identical situation has been occurring on some rooftop sites (usually large buildings), where once again annual rents of £5,000 to £7,000 are being replaced with ones worth just £50/year. As one senior industry source told ISPreview.co.uk: “Operators rely on landlords to insure their buildings, keep them repaired, facilitate access and expect them to be liable if they fail to do so. It is unlikely that [they] will be happy to do this for £50 or less.”