Tenants set to get better connected Telecommunications infrastructure (leasehold property) bill

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One of the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech on 14th October 2019 was the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill (the Bill), the aim of which is to “help accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure broadband networks…”

This Bill will be of interest to telecommunications operators and landlords alike as it proposes amendments to the Electronic Communications Code 2017 (the Code) to make it easier for operators to install broadband infrastructure in a tenanted property, whether residential or commercial.

The Bill follows a consultation lodged in October 2018, which highlighted the risk that tenants would be left behind during the nationwide upgrade to gigabit-capable networks due to a significant number of landlords failing to respond to tenant’s or operator’s requests for permission to install equipment.

The aim of the provisions is to provide a “cheaper and faster light touch tribunal process for obtaining interim code rights for a period of up to 18 months”.

The right will apply where:

  • a tenant is requesting a communications service;

  • the operator is unable to fulfil the tenant’s service request without the landlord conferring Code rights and has sought those rights from the landlord; and

  • a landlord has repeatedly failed to respond to formal notices seeking those rights given by the operator.

If these conditions are satisfied the operator will have a right to make an application to the Tribunal which, if successful, will give the Tribunal the power to impose an agreement on the landlord. The Bill provides for an application process of six weeks, which includes the service by the operator of a request notice, two warning notices and a final notice followed by a Tribunal application.

This agreement would give the operator temporary rights for a period up to a specified maximum, currently proposed to be 18 months. The intention is that during this period, the operator would either seek to reach a more permanent agreement with the landlord or would apply to the Tribunal to have rights imposed using the existing Code process. Interim Code rights obtained under this process will be subject to a set of standardised terms, designed to balance the interests of both landlords and operators.

It is envisaged that the right will only apply where a landlord is unresponsive: as part of its application an operator will need to provide evidence both of their attempts to contact the landlord and of their compliance with any other conditions set out in the legislation. A substantive response from the landlord will take the request for Code rights outside of the scope of this policy. It is hoped that in due course this will increase the response rate from landlords to requests for access, thus improving tenants’ access to high quality networks.

From a landlord’s perspective safeguards will be provided and it is envisaged that from the point when interim rights are granted, the landlord will have power to apply to the Tribunal to challenge the interim Code rights. Where interim rights are granted, the Bill allows landlords to apply to the Tribunal for compensation from the operator for any loss or damage that has been or would be sustained as a result of the exercise of those rights.

The Government has indicated that it will bring forward the necessary primary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows and the Bill had its first reading on 15 October 2019. The provisions of the Bill will come into force on a date to be specified by regulations, which will also specify the terms of the imposed agreements and the Government intends to consult on these regulations before making them. We will be monitoring developments and updates will follow in due course.

If you require advice or further information on the above, please do not hesitate to contact our Real Estate Team.

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