The New Digital Ecomony Act: Land Owners and Mobile Mast Leases
The government’s new Digital Economy Act 2017 - which will modernise the existing Telecommunications Code - has been given Royal Assent. But what implications will it have on land owners who lease sites to mobile phone providers? Zara Davies from Battens Solicitors explains.
The Government has targets: it wants improved network coverage across the UK; it wants super-fast broadband in rural areas and enhanced 3 and 4G mobile phone signal in every region of the country. To achieve this, it needs to make it easier for communication providers to lease land, store equipment and access sites. This means relaxing the existing Telecommunications Code – much of which has remained unchanged since 1984 – and that’s exactly what the new Digital Economy Act sets out to do, by implementing a new Electronic Communication Code incorporating and updating the existing Code.
It is envisaged that agreements between land owners and communication providers will become less cumbersome, and work on more of a ‘wayleave’ basis. The wayleaves (written legal agreements) will give communication providers the right to install, maintain and repair equipment like mobile phone masts, a right of entry to inspect, and the right to interfere with or obstruct access to and from land where their equipment is located.
Site Sharing Clauses Become Void
The Code will also give Communication Providers statutory rights to upgrade or share their apparatus with other providers; this means that clauses aiming to limit this will be void and unenforceable. It’s not good news for the land owners, who will miss out on lease payments they would have previously enjoyed for site sharing and upgrading apparatus unless a) there is a more than ‘minimal adverse impact’ on the appearance of the apparatus, or b) the landowner would face an additional burden as a result of the work.
Rent Negotiations Land owners need to take heed of the Code's relaxed measures and negotiate rent on leases accordingly. If an agreement cannot be reached then the Courts can impose the Code on a landowner where a) the public benefit outweighs the prejudice to the landowner and b) financial compensation is adequate to overcome the detriment to the landowner. The Government aims to strike the right balance of interests between land owners and communication providers. Whether they will achieve this or not remains to be seen.
The new Code has not immediately come into effect; the Secretary of State needs to issue regulations to bring it into effect and no indication has yet been given of when this might be. Battens will keep you updated with any progress as it happens.
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