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Rural business bodies seal new broadband agreement

The Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers’ Union have reached an agreement with Openreach to put new wayleave arrangements in place for broadband network builds

Rural areas of the UK could soon benefit from faster and easier broadband service roll-outs, after the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) and National Farmers’ Union (NFU) signed a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) with national network builder Openreach.

The MoU covers broadband wayleaves – the permissions required to dig new networks across both public and privately owned land – and is designed to make it easier for landowners to come to terms with Openreach over the location of new network digs and payment rates, in theory smoothing the way for a faster roll-out of new services.

Wayleaves have long been a sticking point when it comes to broadband roll-out in the UK, as the process is lengthy, bureaucratic and it can only take one hold-out in a given area to disrupt proceedings.

“Landowners are a committed and crucial part of the solution to alleviate the rural-urban digital divide. It has taken almost 18 months of hard negotiation, but we have secured an agreement that satisfies the government, the infrastructure providers and our members,” said CLA deputy president Mark Bridgeman.

“We have shown, through constructive dialogue across the industry, that roll-out is not driven by price alone.

“A proportionate increase in the annual wayleave payment, coupled with clear documentation and an effective Memorandum of Understanding, will hasten the roll-out of fixed line broadband beyond what is achievable by the revised Electronic Communications Code alone,” he said.

“A robust and effective national framework has been created which brings much needed clarity and stability to the market while at the same time injecting more money into the rural economy through accelerated deployment.”

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NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts said: “The NFU and CLA have worked closely to provide the means to enable landowners to easily reach an agreement with Openreach, bringing much-needed, effective broadband to rural areas.

“Statistics from the NFU show a considerable amount of farmers do not have access to superfast broadband and, in an increasingly digital world, it is crucial our digital communications are fit for purpose.

“This initiative marks another step forward to ensuring our members have all they need to establish and maintain productive, profitable and progressive farming businesses.”

Kim Mears, managing director of strategic infrastructure development at Openreach, said: “We know people in rural areas want fast, reliable broadband. They also want a fair deal when companies need to access their land or install equipment on it.

“That’s why our new framework is great news for the countryside,” she said. “It gives landowners certainty and clarity on our pricing, and is endorsed by the CLA and NFU. The agreement will also help us speed up our rural build programme and drive the UK’s digital growth.

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