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The challenge of telecoms operators seeking to cut mast rent payments

View profile for Paul Burkinshaw
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The challenge of telecoms operators seeking to cut mast rent payments

Since a change in legislation in 2017, farmers and others who permitted the installation of telecommunication equipment have discovered that telecoms companies are now entitled to cut rental payment substantially, sometimes up to 95%, so causing a significant loss in income.

The approach taken is allegedly to align the pricing for the right to install telecoms equipment to reflect that of utilities like water, electricity, and gas.  This, it is argued, enables operators to put more investment into the roll out of better mobile coverage.  This perhaps would not be so galling were not in fact the case that the minute one even sniffs a field mobile phone signals seem to disappear!

A recent review of the situation by the Institute for Economic Affairs called for the pre-2017 rates to be restored.  The loss to farms, landholders, charities, and communities alike is significant and has no regard for the manner in which those monies were used to maintain land for the benefit not only of the agricultural sector but also local communities.

In practice the telecommunications industry has played hardball and have issued proceedings for lease renewal through the Courts or Lands Tribunal to ensure that sums paid by way of rental is driven down.

Individuals and community groups feel bullied when threatened with Court action. The corporations have significantly deeper pockets and see these applications as loss leaders.  For their part, the Government maintains that the losses are generally around 40% and not 95%; although, let us be clear, the Government are not the ones on the other end of the Court applications!

Whilst rents have reduced, allegedly, as noted above to bring them in line with other utilities, those reductions in rents do not reflect the inconvenience that a mast causes a landowner.

The Government are not supportive of landowners and agricultural communities and using a somewhat repetitive phrase insist that the change will “encourage investment” and so improve mobile coverage!

Traditional analogue landlines are programmed to be removed by the end of 2025.  Those without mobiles it is said will still be able to use their existing landlines via broadband, however, those will not operate at all during power cuts or if there is not enough signal.

The difficulties facing agricultural communities will continue and frankly only become worse. Without targeted investment forced upon the sector the sight of people hanging out of bedroom windows seeking a signal will continue for some time.

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