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The Telecommunications Infrastructure Act 2021 – Landowners beware

The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021 – failure to respond to operators could have severe consequences.

What is it?

The Act received royal assent on 15 March 2021 and the main provisions will come into force shortly (exact date currently unknown). It amends the Electronic Communications Code to make it easier for operators to provide faster broadband in large residential buildings.

This is part of the Government’s wider strategy to ‘level up’ the country through the roll out of superfast broadband.

What does it do?

The Act allows operators to apply to the Tribunal for temporary rights to install and operate equipment (such as fibre optic cabling) in large residential buildings where they have requested consent from the owner of the building and they have received no response.

The Act does not apply to purely commercial buildings.

How does it work?

An operator will be entitled to apply to the Tribunal for temporary rights where:

  • They have served a notice on the freehold owner of the building under paragraph 20 of the New Code requesting the right to install their equipment in the building; and,
  • They have served three further warning notices on the freehold owner over a period of at least 28 days; and,
  • The freehold owner has completely failed to respond to the request.

It is worth noting that any written acknowledgement of the request will amount to a response for the purposes of the Act, even if that response includes a refusal of consent.

What happens if an operator applies to the Tribunal?

The Tribunal is likely to grant temporary rights for the operator to install and operate their equipment in the building for the benefit of the leaseholder or tenant that originally requested the service from the operator. The operator can also extend the service to neighbouring leaseholders or tenants provided that this does not have an adverse impact on the freehold owner.

Once granted, the rights will last for 18 months or until a permanent agreement is put in place between the owner and the operator.

How can I avoid dealing with applications to the Tribunal?

You should consider taking the following steps to avoid being caught out by the Act and having to deal with applications to the Tribunal:

  1. You should ensure that wayleave requests from operators are dealt with centrally though a dedicated person or team. This should enable you to deal with requests quickly and consistently. A holding response should be sent immediately in response to every request stating that the request is being considered and will be addressed in due course.
  2. You should make clear on your website or in your written correspondence that you will only accept service of notices at your registered office or primary address. This is necessary because the Act does not provide that notices have to be served at registered office addresses, and you may miss warning notices which are served at a satellite office or if they are served at the premises.
  3. You should ask your residents to consult with you first before requesting services from operators.

Disputing the matter at the Tribunal is costly and time-consuming. It is far preferable to engage with operators to try and agree sensible terms, particularly given the levels of consideration being offered.  There are proposals for more cost-effective alternative dispute resolution in the pipeline which are welcomed. In the meantime, landowners and their managing agents should protect their property by responding promptly to any notices received.

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