UK launches consultation on forcing landlords to allow gigabit broadband upgrades

We want to give your property better internets for free, pls respond

The UK's Department of Fun – aka Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – has opened a consultation on legislation designed to improve access to gigabit broadband in apartment blocks.

Launched today, the consultation [PDF] focuses on the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act, which received Royal assent and was passed into law earlier this year.

The bill defined a process in which telecommunications companies can access apartment blocks in order to upgrade services without obtaining the direct consent of the land owner or landlord.

If a telecommunications provider found itself unable to contact the land owner after repeated attempts, the bill empowers them to seek a court order granting access to the property.

According to DCMS, 40 per cent of all requests made by telecommunications providers to landlords go unanswered.

But the guidelines that determine whether a landlord is genuinely unresponsive have not yet been finalised.

DCMS has also yet to conclusively define how telecommunications providers operate in these situations regarding how work is delivered, and their long-term obligations to reach an agreement with landowners irrespective of whether they obtain a court order granting access.

This agreement would cover ongoing obligations when it comes to maintenance, upgrades, and installations to new units.

The consultation was created to seek the input of landowners and providers as DCMS codifies these rules.

At present, the interim code requires providers to inform landowners of their intent to perform works no less than five working days before the proposed installation.

As a courtesy, it also obliges providers to inform letting agents, and obtain all required permits before commencing work.

Works must be performed by suitably qualified engineers, backed with at least £5m of insurance. The rules also set out the times in which works may be performed, in order to limit the disruption to residents.

If a landowner ignores a final notice, the interim code sets out how providers can petition a first-tier tribunal (or sheriff's court in Scotland), provided 42 days had elapsed. If a provider successfully obtains an order, it remains active for 18 months.

At present, the interim code extends to just residential properties. The consultation aims to determine whether it would be appropriate to extend its remit to commercial properties, including office blocks and business parks.

"While we understand some landowners have legitimate reasons for not responding, it is difficult to understand why around 40 per cent of industry requests go without any response," wrote digital secretary Matt Warman.

"This is even more confusing when property owners are effectively being offered a free upgrade to their buildings, which will not only deliver improved digital services to their existing tenants, but in the longer term, prevent their properties becoming islands of not-spots in the sea of gigabit connections we are helping build."

Cash-strapped millennials with no real prospect of ever escaping the quicksand of perpetual renting would struggle to understand Warman's incredulity.

It's not so much that the landlord-tenant power dynamic is fundamentally imbalanced, but rather that many landlords are only concerned with taking half of your monthly paycheque while rendering the absolute minimum level of service.

With that in mind, it's easy to see why DCMS has sought to twist the arm of landlords.

The consultation has a closing date for comments of 4 August 2021. ®

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