Broadband boost for UK flat-dwellers

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A new law will ensure the nine million people in the UK living in blocks of flats aren’t left behind in the Government’s nationwide upgrade to gigabit speed broadband, Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan has confirmed.

The measures will make it easier to install faster Internet connections in blocks of flats where landlords repeatedly ignore requests for access from broadband firms. It is estimated that an extra 3,000 residential buildings a year will be connected as a result.

This follows the government announcing £5 billion of new funding to bring gigabit-capable broadband to the hardest-to-reach parts of the UK earlier this month. It is the latest Government action to bust the barriers to faster broadband rollout and enable the private sector to get the job done.

The legislation is part of the Prime Minister’s plan to level up the country through new infrastructure, and deliver nationwide coverage of gigabit speed broadband as soon as possible.

“We’re pushing ahead with delivering the digital infrastructure that will underpin the UK’s future growth and boost our productivity,” stated Morgan. “We’ve just announced £5 billion [€5.66bn] so that people in rural communities will get gigabit speed Internet at the same time as everyone else. And we’re 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.”

To install gigabit-capable broadband in the UK’s estimated 480,000 blocks of flats or apartments, broadband companies must get permission from the building’s owner to enter the property and undertake the necessary works. One of the biggest obstacles preventing operators deploying new networks to residential blocks is the landlord’s failure to respond in any way to requests for access.

Operators say that 40 per cent of their requests for access receive no response. While they already have an option available to push for access via the courts, there is considerable cost, time and uncertainty involved.

This means a significant amount of tenants are missing out on the chance to benefit from gigabit-capable broadband. The same problem does not exist for individual houses, where it is much easier to get permission to access the property.

To solve this, the Government is going to create a cheaper and faster process for telecoms companies to get access rights. It will apply when a landlord has repeatedly failed to respond to requests for access to install a connection that a tenant within the building has asked for. It will give operators a cheaper and more streamlined route via the existing Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) to connect the property, lowering the timescale to enter a property from six months to a matter of weeks, and at a drastically reduced cost.

“This new law is something Virgin Media has long called for – it breaks through a major broadband barrier as we invest to bring gigabit speeds to our entire, ever-growing network,” suggested Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media. “Giving broadband builders clear and efficient access rights will mean the many forgotten flats across the country can get the next-generation connectivity they deserve.

“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,” commented Greg Mesch, Chief Executive Officer of CityFibre. “As a company committed to rolling out more than 20 per cent of the target, CityFibre welcomes all barrier busting initiatives that help to accelerate the rate of build.”

“We recognise how important it is that tenants should have access to high speed broadband,” added David Smith, Policy Director for the Residential Landlords Association. “It is in a landlord’s interests to be able to offer it as it makes their properties more attractive to prospective tenants. The RLA will work constructively with the Government to ensure that any difficulties in implementing enhanced access rights are addressed such as broadband companies ensuring they have the right contact details for a landlord.”


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