Future-proofing our digital connectivity for Britain
Author: Belinda Fawcett, General Counsel and Property & Estates Director at Cornerstone
Imagine life without digital connectivity. It suddenly dawns on you how the limitations and restrictions that you would experience impact your daily life.
These past few months, living through a pandemic has demonstrated even more how much we rely on digital services.
Many of us have been able to carry on working from home even without our work premises. We have been able to stay in touch with our family, friends and colleagues despite being in lockdown. We have had an array of online services available to us, be it grocery shopping, home-schooling facilities, virtual GP appointments, banking services…the list goes on.
But let’s not forget, we relied heavily on digital connectivity even before the pandemic. Over the years, the launch of next-generation mobile technologies has provided convenience and flexibility amongst all age groups. As with anything, when you get a taste of something good, you want more! And that’s why the public demand for mobile connectivity is ever-increasing.
The Mobile Network Operators are under the spotlight to deliver these demands. However, they can’t do this alone. A collaborative process is required when it comes to providing mobile connectivity and coverage within an area. Let’s focus on the mobile infrastructure services organisations, like ourselves, Cornerstone. We acquire and manage the mobile infrastructure on sites on behalf of our operators, Vodafone and O2 (Telefonica). We need to place telecoms infrastructure in the right place. Landowners, including individual landlords, local authorities, or utility providers, play a crucial part in this process, agreeing to house our mobile equipment on their land or rooftops.
For years, that’s how it’s worked. Operators are the “tenants,” which means in exchange for occupying the land with infrastructure, a rental fee is payable to the landowner. In basic terms, that’s fair and makes sense as far as the landlord and tenant relationship works but those rents were rising exponentially and the increasing operating costs of a site was hampering the level of investment required by the industry to boost the digital economy. The Government recognised that to encourage the further investment required, the Electronic Communications Code legislation, which regulates the relationship between operators and providers of land for sites, needed revising. And so, it was, in December 2017, intending to reduce the costs of housing phone masts and other communications infrastructure on private land. This creates more opportunities for faster and more reliable broadband and mobile services.
Has it worked? That is the million-dollar question. Although the legislation was meant to make it easier and quicker to roll-out and upgrade mobile equipment on sites, it has not quite reached its objective. There are several reasons as to why this is. There is a reluctance in the lower rents offered; there are misinterpretations of what the Code rights mean; there are uncertainties on what the new land valuations mean. But with Code tribunal cases taken place over the past two years, it’s evident that the Code legislation itself needs refining. Although it has brought positive outcomes, the Code is not working as it intended which poses a risk to the Government’s future digital strategy.
Recognising this need for change, the Speed Up Britain campaign launched in July 2020 to help lobby the Government to close the loopholes in the Code. The campaign was founded by Mobile UK, Cellnex, Cornerstone and MBNL (the organisations responsible for delivering the UK’s mobile infrastructure).
Speed Up Britain is calling on the Government to make targeted changes to the Code so we can efficiently continue to deploy the UK’s mobile infrastructure. Delivering reliable mobile connectivity will enable us to benefit from digital services and smart solutions.
Let’s Speed Up Britain to join the future.