It was less than five years ago that the Electronic Communications Code (the Code) came into force, but plans for reform are already making headway, with the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill 2021-2022 set to become law later this year.

Some of the key changes to the Code introduced by the Bill include:

  • Enabling operators to automatically upgrade and share apparatus which was installed prior to 2017 (pre-Code), whereas under the current Code, a new agreement would have to be put in place
  • A new procedure to allow operators to have temporary rights of access to land where a landowner is unresponsive
  • Streamlining the renewal of expired telecoms agreements
  • Streamlining the timescale for court/tribunal proceedings
  • Active encouragement for alternative dispute resolution

The amendments to the Code greatly facilitate upgrades to telecoms apparatus and, in theory, these upgrades should speed up the process of finalising new telecoms agreements, a burden to both landowners and operators. It remains to be seen whether this will be true in practice and, indeed, whether it will significantly reduce the current amount of litigation. With the possible exception of less disruption caused by operators seeking to carry out upgrades to apparatus, unfortunately, the amendments offer little benefit to landowners who are already neglected under the Code. This comes with the caveat that operators are likely to upscale their operations in the coming years. There is little that can be done to oppose this, with the landowners’ sometimes useful ‘last resort’ tactic of ignoring requests from operators for site visits and new agreements in the hope that they do not want to make an application to the Tribunal, nullified by the Bill.

Crucially, the Bill does not address the prevailing issue of landowners being fairly compensated in terms of rent. Unless this changes, landowners will likely not be as excited as operators will be about the Bill, with private property rights being disregarded and rooftops filled at the expense of the fast-paced roll-out of digital infrastructure.