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New law will help roll-out of faster broadband

Measures will make it easier to install faster internet connections in blocks of flats where landlords repeatedly ignore requests for access from broadband firms

The government is seeking to introduce a law that would allow broadband operators to gain access to blocks of flats and apartments by circumventing unresponsive landlords.

The legislation would amend the current Electronic Communications Code, which allows operators to apply to a tribunal for provisional rights to enter a property and install infrastructure.

Despite this, operators have not done so, citing the cost, time and uncertainty of the eventual result as reasons.

The new legislation will therefore give operators a faster, cheaper route to gain interim rights under the existing code.

However, this route will apply only in specific circumstances where: a tenant has requested a service; the landlord’s permission is required for that service to be delivered; and the landlord has failed to respond to repeated requests for access from an operator.

“We are pushing ahead with delivering the digital infrastructure that will underpin the UK’s future growth and boost our productivity,” said digital secretary Nicky Morgan.

“We are now making sure people living in blocks of flats and apartments are not left behind either, and can reap the huge benefits of the fastest and most resilient internet connections.”

It is estimated that an extra 3,000 residential buildings a year will be connected as a result of the law change.

The move has been welcomed by operators, who claim that 40% of their requests for access receive no response.

“We are pleased to see the government supporting competitive builders of digital infrastructure as they build momentum to deliver the target of national full-fibre coverage by 2025,” said CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch.

“As a company committed to rolling out more than 20% of the target, CityFibre welcomes all barrier-busting initiatives that help to accelerate the rate of build.”

Although specifics are currently unclear, the government has said it will set out a clear process for operators to follow to demonstrate their repeated attempts at engagement with a landlord before they can apply for those rights.

Similarly, once the rights of access have been granted, landlords will be able to challenge the order granting them.

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The legislation is part of prime minister Boris Johnson’s plan to upgrade the country’s infrastructure and deliver nationwide coverage of gigabit-speed broadband as soon as possible.

This follows the government’s announcement of £5bn new funding to bring gigabit-capable broadband to harder-to-reach, rural parts of the UK earlier this month.

In addition to this new funding, the government is looking to change planning rules to help 5G roll-out by making it easier to build and operate 5G mobile networks.

But a recent report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee highlighted how rural networks are still struggling to keep up, which means the divide between rural and urban areas continues to grow.

Neil Parish, Conservative MP and chair of the committee at the time of the report, said: “Digital connectivity is now regarded by many as an essential utility, with many in rural areas struggling to live a modern lifestyle without it. There continues to be a lot of frustration felt by those living or working in rural areas – and rightly so.

“The committee is not confident that the government has fully grasped the scale of the challenge currently faced, and is sceptical as to whether the government will meet these ambitious new targets without considerable and potentially controversial reforms.”

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