The Electronic Communications Code and how it affects Landowners
Imagine if your business and your home were prone to unreliable, intermittent electricity connections with regular outages not caused by a lack of available electricity (that is another story) but merely due to inadequate national network infrastructure. Surely unthinkable in the 21st century.
Reliable digital communications have rapidly become as essential in our daily lives as has an uninterrupted energy supply and that is the spirit of the Digital Economy Act 2017. Mobile network operators and the providers of the associated infrastructure of masts and cabling now have significantly increased statutory powers in their dealings with the owners of land and buildings which host the infrastructure.
A form of “compulsory purchase” is included in the existing Electronic Communications Code which allows operators to seek court orders for the installation of equipment against the will of the property owner but in practice these powers have rarely been used and the free market has enabled contracts to be negotiated for the mutual benefit of operators and property owners who share in the value of the installation through rents based on the value to the operators.
Certain rights to remain onsite after the expiry of contracts also form part of the existing Code and are strengthened by the new Code.
The amended Code, which came into force on 28th December 2017, restricts rents by basing them on the market value of the site, disregarding the potential income generated by the equipment. Landowners can expect to receive modest annual payments similar to wayleave payments for utilities such as electricity crossing their land.
Other significant changes include the operator’s new freedom to transfer its rights or share rights with other operators, resulting in a proliferation of equipment installed and parties accessing the site, without needing the consent of the landowner or any increased rent payable; and an increased underpinning of the new rights by a prohibition against contracting out of the Code.
So good news for the operators and more importantly, for all the frustrated consumers in the many areas that currently have inadequate connectivity; but cause for serious consideration by rural landowners and the owners of high rise urban buildings which may be identified as essential locations for the expansion of the digital network.