The long-awaited Electronic Communications Code is set to have a huge effect on landowners, with more than 50,000 leases in place across the UK.
The new code was passed into law at the end of December 2017 and replaces the existing Telecoms Code, which many described as being an ill-thought-out and incoherent piece of legislation.
Agreements already in place will continue under the old legislation, however landowners entering into a new agreement or lease renewal post December 28, 2017, will do so under the new code, which features a number of changes – and some fundamental flaws.
Under the new code, an operator may upgrade or share apparatus with other operators providing there is no more than a minimal, adverse impact upon appearance and that the upgrading or sharing of apparatus imposes no additional burden on the landowner.
The operator is able to share free of charge and without the landowner’s consent, meaning the landowner will miss out on any site sharing payments.
This change is driven by the Government’s ambition to facilitate high quality broadband and mobile networks, but it is unlikely operators will invest in those hard-to-reach areas.
This means rural areas with clusters of four or five houses will not benefit as the cost of the infrastructure and connectivity is very high and operators will not invest because of low returns on this.
If the lack of site sharing payments meant this additional money was invested in rural infrastructure and did not go back into the company and shareholders’ pockets, it would constitute a fairer deal for landowners, however in a very cut-throat industry I do not foresee this happening.
I also envisage that we could potentially end up with a two-tier market, with rent for sites in built-up towns and cities increasing quite substantially while, in rural areas, landowners could well miss out on any upward rental.
There are a number of holes in the new legislation which could lead operators to adopt a very aggressive approach when acquiring new sites, and landowners are going to have to be very careful when negotiating fresh contracts.
In short, this is not good news for landowners and comes at a time of unprecedented pressures for rural communities.
Of course, we need a national drive for improved connectivity with 5G just around the corner, but it seems that again rural landowners will be missing out.