Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill introduced to UK parliament

October 23, 2019

The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill 2019-20 has been introduced to parliament and received its first reading in the House of Commons. The next stage is second reading, the date for which has not yet been set. 

The Bill amends the Electronic Communications Code as contained in Schedule 3A to the Communications Act 2003. It provides a bespoke process for telecoms network operators in the UK to gain access to multiple dwelling buildings (blocks of residential flats and apartments) to deploy, upgrade or maintain fixed-line broadband connections, where a tenant has requested an electronic communication service but the landlord has repeatedly failed to respond to an operator’s requests for access.

In July 2018, the Government published its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review examining the state of the UK telecoms market and its importance to the UK’s future economic growth. The review concluded that the UK is a world leader in ‘superfast’ connectivity (speeds of up to 30Mbps) with more than 95% of premises covered, but that it is falling behind other nations on the roll-out of the next generation of connectivity, so-called ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband (speeds of up to 1000Mbps). 

The review identified several ‘barriers to deployment’ that are inhibiting access to gigabit-capable broadband. In particular, network operators face significant difficulties in providing broadband services to blocks of flats or apartment buildings, as they require the landowner’s permission to access the building and are unable to provide a connection to a resident who is requesting a service without building access rights being granted.  Requests are not responded to in up to 40% of cases.

The operators have asserted that the result of this is that they have been prevented from providing services and that, as a consequence, they have removed properties from their deployment plans.

The Code governs the legal relationships between network operators and site occupiers and during 2018 the UK government consulted on proposals to reform the Code to expedite deployment of broadband connectivity for multiple dwelling buildings. Following the consultation, the government made the following changes, which are reflected in the current Bill. Particular changes are:

  • lowering the eventual overall timescale for operators to obtain rights to enter a property from the two months envisaged in the consultation to six weeks
  • creating what is intended to be a quicker, cheaper route via the relevant tribunal for interim Code rights, compared to the original proposal for a warrant of entry process involving the magistrates’ court; and
  • limiting the duration of interim Code rights available to an operator to a period to be specified of no longer than 18 months rather than indefinitely, to provide operators with incentives to continue efforts to contact the landlord.