Guides & Advice

Telecoms: Keeping the country connected during COVID-19

Published: 12th May 2020
Area: Property Disputes

Telecoms: Keeping the country connected during COVID-19

Every day we are shown the damage that COVID-19 is doing to both public health and the economy, but recent events have also highlighted the virus’ impact on the telecommunications industry.

5G coronavirus conspiracy theories
Although the UK is currently heavily reliant on operators’ networks to keep in touch with loved ones and allow businesses to function, there have also been cases of vandalism of telecoms apparatus due to false concerns that 5G spreads coronavirus.

No matter the circumstances, criminal damage to apparatus is never acceptable. As such, during these times when maintaining communication is so vital, landowners and operators must collaborate effectively to protect the digital network.

How to preserve the telecoms industry during COVID-19
In order to maintain telecommunication infrastructure, government guidance recommends that, under existing contractual agreements, access to engineers and other workers is granted by landowners for:

  • Emergency repairs
  • Routine maintenance
  • Critical upgrades

As a result, clear communication between landowners and operators is essential. However, since lockdown began, the number of reports from landowners being flooded with access requests has increased considerably. Some are even being threatened with legal action if they do not permit operators to build new telecoms masts on their land.

In general, landowners should try to cooperate with operators’ requests, but they should avoid responding too quickly, without considering their own position and first gaining professional advice. On the whole, operators will legitimately need access to maintain their network, but they must also understand the operational difficulties facing landowners because of the Government restrictions.

Guidance for landowners of telecommunications infrastructure during COVID-19
For landowners receiving an increasing amount of correspondence from operators, it is important to remember the following:

  • Requests can be scanned and sent over to advisors in order to gain legal advice.
  • In existing telecoms leases, provisions relating to the renewal of new rights and granting access should be reviewed, as these will still apply.
  • The full details of the proposed works to be carried out should be requested, as this can help landowners to assess the urgency of the works.
  • A Risk Assessment Method Statement should also be requested, which explains how the operator will comply with the Government restrictions.
  • Delays are likely to occur when it comes to responding to operators, so landowners should make it clear that they are not refusing access but trying to manage the correspondence they have received based on their resources.
  • Access requests can be categorised into emergency and non-essential works. This makes it easier to arrange access for emergency works and to justify denying access to those in the latter category, due to staff shortages and other COVID-19 related issues.

Even with an increase in correspondence, all operator requests should still be considered on an individual basis. Land and building owners are a vital part of preserving the UK’s digital network, and this is only possible if they are able to collaborate with operators in a fair and transparent way.

Contact us
For further guidance please contact Martin Edwards or another member of the property disputes team.

For legal support in relation to the coronavirus or any other matter, get in touch with your team today.

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