Communication Apparatus Can Go Anywhere!

The Communications Act, 2003 introduced a regulatory framework for the communications sector.  It also established the regulatory Office of Communications (‘OFCOM’).  Annexed to it was a code (‘the Code’) enabling communication operators (‘Operators’) to install and maintain apparatus on public land and to apply to the courts for an order to install and maintain equipment on private land if the Operator was unable to reach agreement with the private landowner.  Over the years, the Code became outdated and insufficient for the needs of Operators.  Hence, in order to improve communication coverage, capability and capacity, as demanded by the Operators, communities and the general public as a whole, the Code had to be updated.

A new Code has now, through the Digital Economy Act, 2017, been introduced and the powers given to Operators, substantially increased.  It came into operation on 28 December 2017 and applies to any agreement between Operators and landowners entered into after that date.  To accompany the new Code, OFCOM produced a Code of Practice, a set of proposed standard terms to be used in the agreements and, finally, a number of templates for notices, some of which are compulsory under the legislation.

The powers included in any agreement are now extensive.  In addition to entering any land, public or private, to install equipment, maintain, alter and repair it, the Operators may connect to the landowner’s power supply, obstruct access to the land and lop back trees and vegetation interfering with apparatus.  They may also assign or share their equipment with other Operators and conduct street works.  The Code relates, too, to the termination of agreements (landowners can only terminate for specified reasons including the Operator’s non-payment of the agreement fee, or for the purposes of redevelopment), the terms to be included (including the consideration paid) and makes provision for dispute resolution.  Powers are enforced by the courts.

Longer notice periods before an agreement can be terminated, the assignment provisions and the basis of the consideration to be paid by Operators (which has substantially decreased the payments made), have already given rise to negative comment by landowners and their representatives.  It will be interesting to see whether these mutterings lead to disputes.  Watch this space.

Comments are closed.