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Phone masts and broadband provisions – new rules

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The "new" Electronic Communications Code came into effect on 28 December 2017. Its provisions affect landowners who have masts and telecommunications equipment on their land and it is intended to make operational business easier for operators and to decrease costs. The Code governs the rights of operators involved in the telecommunications and broadband business and provides rights of access to land, to require sites and for the providers to share masts.

The Code applies to telecoms agreements entered into prior to the date it came into force but with modifications and in full to any new agreements entered into after 28 December 2017. A summary of some significant aspects of the new laws are;

  • Rights - under the Code, Operators are granted certain rights including access to land, to maintain equipment, rights to keep apparatus installed on land, rights to carry out works on land to facilitate the installation of apparatus on land etc. It is not clear from the Code whether a Code right means any one or more of the rights listed or if the rights are combined.
  • Valuation - Previously the rental valuations were based on the value of the land to the Operator. Now it is based on what the land is worth is worth to the landowner - which could be agricultural value or even less if on unfarmed land. Depending on the values, this could potentially benefit landowners, particular if their land has good development value.
  • Upgrading and mast sharing - The new Code grants rights to operators to share and upgrade their existing apparatus. A landowner will receive no additional payment where the site is shared between two or more Operators. No consent from the landowner is required to share the equipment but the Operator must ensure that there is no additional burden on the other party or an adverse visual impact on the land. Also, terms in agreements which prevent Operators from assigning the agreement are void.
  • Termination - the new Code differentiates between rights for the Operator under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 and the Code, as only the Code will apply to new agreements. An Operator cannot have protection under the Code and under the LTA 1954. A landowner must give the Operator at least 18 months notice to terminate the agreement stating which ground it relies upon (which include substantial breaches by the operator of its obligations under the Code, the land owner intending to redevelop the land etc.) Any removal of equipment or redevelopment can only take place after the agreement ends. The Operator is able to serve a counter notice within 3 months to request that the agreement does not come to an end. . In such circumstances, the issue would become contested and therefore it may take a longer period of time for landowners to obtain possession of the land.

As under the previous Codes, a landowner should seek valuation advice when approached by an operator wanting to install new infrastructure or renew or vary existing arrangements.

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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