Digital Economy Bill

Written Evidence Submitted by Relish to the Public Bill Committee for the Digital Economy Bill (DEB 40)

 

Reform of the Electronic Communications Code

 

About Relish

1. Relish [1] is a provider of fibre and wireless networks and services. In 2014 Relish launched its acclaimed high speed fixed wireless broadband service in Central London, which utilises 124 MHz of high capacity licensed 4G/LTE spectrum [2] . We offer same day delivery of our service, flexible contract terms and freedom from an often redundant land line service. Relish also offers dedicated point to point microwave links for businesses, with speeds of up to 100 Mbps. For 2017 we are launching a full fibre FTTP [3] product for business and residential multi-tenanted properties. Our network now covers 400,000 London premises and the next stage of expansion is set to expand coverage to a further 2 million premises.

Expanding Network Coverage

2. Building and maintaining communications networks depends upon the use of land. The biggest challenge we face when expanding our network coverage is the time it takes to acquire sites on which to house our equipment. The typical timescale is 12-24 months per site. This acts as a major barrier to investment. Planning approval is part of the issue, but the majority of the time is spent negotiating terms of access with landlords. This prevents us from meeting consumer demand for additional broadband and mobile capacity [4] .

3. The Code , originally enacted in 1984 , has not proved an effective tool for operators to secure access to land and is generally regarded as badly drafted, confusing and unduly complicated.

4. Operators investing in new digital communications infrastructure need powers to install, repair and upgrade equipment speedily and cost-effectively. The advent of 5G, which will require much denser networks, will only accentuate these imperatives. Our parent company wishes to make significant additional investment in the UK market but is unlikely to be able to invest in network outside of London if the status quo is maintained. We therefore strongly support the measures for a new Code put forward in the Bill.

Rapid Access to Sites

5. Part 2 of the Code will provide for a speedier dispute resolution process, moving from ordinary courts to specialist Tribunals. This will enable disputes to be resolved more swiftly – a lengthy and uncertain process for dispute resolution currently acts as a brake on investment.

Sharing and Upgrading

6. In order to increase coverage and capacity and keep pace with technological developments (such as 5G) operators must be able to upgrade infrastructure and, where appropriate to reduce costs and/ or increase coverage, share sites with other operators. Where there is no visual or other impact on the landlord of a proposed upgrade or modification, the landlord should not be able to increase rents in such circumstances. We therefore support the measures in Part 3 of the Code to give operators an automatic right to upgrade and share apparatus where there is minimal adverse visual impact.

Rental Valuations

7. The market for both fixed line wayleaves and radio sites has, due to a balance of power in favour of the landowners, developed to reflect the value of the site to the operator, rather than the landlord. Operators have therefore tended to pay inflated rents. The measures in Part 4 of the Code reverse this, so that charges must reflect the underlying value of the land and the market value must be assessed on the assumption that there is more than one site which the operator could use. This will rightly limit the ability of landlords to demand ransom rents where there are no other suitable sites in the vicinity.

October 2016


[1] Relish is a trading name of UK Broadband Limited and UKB Networks Limited, together the UKB Group. The UKB Group is owned by the PCCW-HKT Group in Hong Kong.

[2] This spectrum can be used for the provision of both mobile and fixed wireless services.

[3] Fibre to the Premise

[4] 70% of postcode coverage checks on the Relish website are for postcodes outside our coverage area.

 

Prepared 18th October 2016