2 In July 2018, the Government published its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), examining the state of the UK telecoms market and its importance to the UK’s future economic growth. The FTIR concluded that the UK is a world leader in ‘superfast’ connectivity (speeds of up to 30Mbps) with more than 95% of premises covered, but that it is falling behind other nations on the roll-out of the next generation of connectivity, so-called ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband (speeds of up to 1000Mbps). The Government has indicated that it is considering how the roll-out of gigabit-capable networks might be achieved more quickly than the targets set out in the FTIR.
3 The FTIR identified several ‘barriers to deployment’ that are inhibiting access to gigabit-capable broadband. In particular, the FTIR found that network operators face significant difficulties in providing broadband services to blocks of flats or apartment buildings, as they require the landowner’s permission to access the building and are unable to provide a connection to a resident who is requesting a service without building access rights being granted.
4 The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been informed by operators that, across their initial deployment programmes for gigabit-capable broadband, requests to access multiple dwelling units have not been responded to in approximately 40% of cases. The operators have asserted that the result of this is that they have been prevented from providing services and that, as a consequence, they have removed properties from their deployment plans.
5 The Code governs the legal relationships between network operators and site occupiers (referred to in the Code as "site providers" or "occupiers") in respect of rights for operators to access land in order to deploy, upgrade and maintain telecommunications infrastructure. These "Code rights" may be conferred on operators by a consensual agreement with the landowner or, where operators and site occupiers are unable to reach an agreement, either party may apply to the court for an agreement to be imposed.
6 From 29 October 2018 to 23 December 2018, the Government consulted on proposals to reform the Code in order to expedite deployment of broadband connectivity for multiple dwelling buildings. The consultation received 46 responses from fixed line and mobile operators, representative bodies of landlords and landowners, law firms and members of the public. On the basis of those responses, the Government made a number of changes to the policy, which are reflected in the current Bill. Particular changes are:
a. Lowering the eventual overall timescale for operators to obtain rights to enter a property from the two months we envisaged in the consultation to six weeks
b. Creating what is intended to be a quicker, cheaper route via the Tribunal for interim Code rights, compared to the original proposal for a warrant of entry process involving the magistrates’ court; and
c. Limiting the duration of interim Code rights available to an operator to a period to be specified of no longer than 18 months rather than indefinitely, to incentivise operators to continue efforts to contact the landlord.