Monday, July 15, 2019

Landowners warned against one-sided telecoms deals

January 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Property

Land and property owners should refuse to sign any templated telecoms agreement for siting a mobile phone mast or other communications infrastructure on their property after the new Telecoms Code took effect last month.

Robert Paul, one of the UK’s leading experts on the telecoms market, says he fears the terms of any such agreement could leave site providers at a significant disadvantage. This makes it more important than ever to seek professional advice if approached by an operator, he says.

Mr Paul, a director for land agents Strutt & Parker, says mobile phone operators have been trying to agree a standard lease document with the input of a body of landowners’ representatives ahead of the new code coming into force.

“They argue that this will simplify the process of getting agreements in place, which will help them as they try to speed up the rollout of mobile and broadband services,” he explains.

“However, given the NFU, CLA and other industry bodies have recently withdrawn from the process, it is likely that any agreement will be one-sided in favour of the operators and not a true reflection of what rights the code actually gives to them.

Flawed concept

“In our view, the concept of a standard agreement for telecoms sites is flawed anyway. The industry does not operate on standard lease terms now – it never has done, and there is no reason why it should start happening now.”

Mr Paul says he has already seen indications that operators intend to take a more aggressive approach to the acquisition and handling of sites once the new code takes effect, so it is vital that site providers are aware of their rights under the new arrangements.

“The operators interpret the code in a very different way to how we would. For example, the new code does aim to make it easier for operators to upgrade and share their equipment with other operators to help increase coverage.

“But this does not mean that an operator has unfettered rights under the new code to add equipment installed on a site, much as operators would like people to believe that. The code does give them greater powers, but they have to jump through a number of hoops first.”

Rental value

Mr Paul says the issue of rents should also be considered. Strutt & Parker’s most recent telecoms survey showed that the average greenfield rent for a mobile phone mast was £6,000 per year, but some operators are paying just a few thousand pounds as a one-off payment for a long-term lease.

“Landowners, particularly those in remote rural areas, are as keen as anyone to see improved mobile and broadband connections, but they cannot be expected to sign up without question to agreements that could have a significant impact on their normal business operations.

“It is important that site providers are aware that even though the new telecoms code does give the operators greater powers, landowners still have the right to negotiate around the terms of any agreement.

“If approached by an operator asking to inspect a potential site, we would advise property owners to agree terms first before granting entry. Those with existing telecoms equipment on their property should also carefully consider their position following the introduction of the new code.”

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