Success in Digital Economy Bill

Following engagement by the APWireless team, the UK Government has amended the Digital Economy Bill. The legislation now recognises the role of market value in the setting of rents for wireless infrastructure.As I blogged about recently, in the legislation, the British Government initially decided to change the way that rents are agreed for wireless infrastructure. The change, as originally proposed, would have shifted valuing land away from a market-based system to a ‘no scheme’ valuation.

APWireless thought it very necessary to engage with the British Parliament to highlight the considerable drawbacks of that type of approach. Far from improving network coverage, we were concerned that any savings made by the mobile operators would not be reinvested in the infrastructure as was being suggested. There were also, we felt, a number of problems for our own business and a knock-on impact on land owners.

We put these arguments directly to Government and also worked closely with several members of the House of Lords to make sure that the issues were raised as the Bill was being considered and debated in Parliament. The Lords understood our concerns and the issues were debated several times.

There were also some other organisations complaining about the changes being proposed by the Government. Interests from across the sector, but critically from land owners themselves, had an impact on Government thinking. But there were also a number of more technical complaints that were made about the proposed changes and how they would be difficult to interpret and implement.

We, as operators of the infrastructure, were in a great deal of agreement with these others bodies. In the face of us, landowners and specialist technicians, the arguments came together and were pushed hard by some members of the House of Lords.

The Government introduced its own amendments to the Bill making it clear that landowners should be paid appropriately for allowing code operators to use their land in order to strike a balance between property rights and the public benefit.

We felt that this change better reflected the needs of our customers and those of our business whilst also offering the benefits to improved coverage that the Government were seeking.

The Bill has yet to finish going through Parliament but as Government amendments they will become part of the final Bill and then the Act as it will become.

Having been successful in taking our case to Parliament, we think there is some valuable follow-up that we can do.

1. Understanding the business – we need to ensure that a wider range of audiences, particularly across the UK Parliament and Government know and understand our business.
2. Don’t wait to be asked – we have always worked hard in engaging with policy officials but sometimes you just have to be a little more political. This means not being afraid to take our arguments forcefully to them as we have on this issue.
3. Friends and allies – we have worked well with others on this issue so the value of such relationships is clear. We will look to make sure that we are talking to these groups on an ongoing basis. You can never have too many friends!
4. It’s what our competitors do – it has become clear that some of our competitors are better known by Government. In a highly competitive market like ours we cannot really let them be the voice of the sector – we have our own positions!
We feel that we have achieved a significant result and the team is proud of what has been achieved.

But we know that Governments’ often come up with ideas that can have unintended consequences. We all need to continue to be alive to what politicians are up to. The dangers of not being on top of what they are saying and doing can impact on our reputation and our business.

Tom Evans, Senior Vice President