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The bill aims to make it easier for telecoms network operators to access multiple dwelling buildings (such as flats) to install or upgrade broadband connections. It would introduce a new process for operators to apply to the courts for access to the property where the “lessee” occupant has requested a broadband service and the rights holder (eg the owner or landlord) has not responded to multiple requests for access.

It would do this by inserting a new part 4A into the electronic communications code. The code governs the relationship between network operators and rights holders of land. It is intended to make it easier for network operators to install and maintain telecoms apparatus on public and private land. Where agreement cannot be reached over digital infrastructure upgrades or installations, the code allows operators to apply to a court or tribunal for agreements to be imposed. However, operators have signalled that they are not keen on using the code due to time and cost implications. They have also said that requests to access multiple dwelling units have not been responded to in about 40% of cases. The Government hopes the new process will deliver a quicker and easier way of dealing with this issue.

The legislation forms part of the Government’s policy to improve the country’s digital infrastructure. It has stated its intention to accelerate the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband and has previously referred to a 2025 target for achieving this nationally. Although welcoming the Government’s ambition, network operators have spoken about certain barriers they face undertaking this work. These include costs and getting permission to access and install on private land.

The House of Commons has already considered the bill. Although it received cross-party support, Labour described the bill as “mediocre”. Labour moved unsuccessful amendments that would have required operators who carried out work under a part 4A order to enable other operators to also easily install their equipment. Labour amendments queried whether ‘tenants’ could make requests under the legislation and also called for the Government to publish more detailed plans for its digital infrastructure roll-out. In addition, MPs voiced concerns about the involvement of “high-risk” vendors in the UK’s digital infrastructure. Conservative MPs pressed to a division an amendment that sought to prohibit the involvement of high-risk vendors after 2022. It was defeated by 306 votes to 282.

On 22 April 2020, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the second reading of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill.

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