CLA to produce a national broadband wayleave deal
The Country Landowners Association (CLA) is working on a national wayleave agreement that could regulate relationships between landowners and broadband network builders and speed up the provision of high speed broadband in rural areas.
A draft of the agreement has been sent to the National Farmers Union (NFU), which shares a high percentage of members with the CLA. But lawyers for the NFU have questioned the impact of competition legislation on the agreement, suggesting that it might run foul of cartel provisions in the law.
The CLA is currently clarifying this impact, and if it exists, will seek an exemption in the light of the public interest in such an agreement. It hopes to complete the agreement by mid-October.
The proposed agreement is advisory rather than mandatory. The lack of a standard wayleave agreement, even if it is only a guideline, has been seen as an important obstacle to building next generation networks. Many parishes and villages are frustrated by the lack of progress on high speed networks in their areas.
If it comes into force, it will help to regulate negotiations between network builders and landowners on rentals to be paid for crossing land. This will speed up talks and also offer alternatives to BT’s physical infrastructure for network routing, particularly fibre networks, in rural areas.
Around 120 companies have so-called code powers to dig up roads and put in “holes and poles” to install network infrastructure. The proposed CLA agreement would allow firms without code powers to agree deals with local landowners that could give them a competitive advantage over network operators like BT and Virgin Media. However, BT and Virgin Media would also be able to take advantage of the agreement
The present network was optimised for analogue telephony based on copper wires. The design of a digital fibre network would look quite different to the old copper network.
As delegates to the County Broadband conference for Essex parishes heard last night, providing next generation broadband to a village with 100 houses could require separate wayleave agreements with up to 20 landowners, not all of which could be found easily.
This has held up progress on network builds, particularly for the so-called “middle mile” that connects local distribution cabinets to exchanges or points of presence and then to the core national carrier networks and the internet.
Standardising the terms and conditions would at least provide a starting point for negotiations, and speed up the delivery of next generation broadband to parishioners.
The CLA believes this is crucial to narrow the gap between urban and rural broadband access and pricing, to help farmers diversify into sustainable alternatives to farming, as well provide access to public services that are increasingly delivered online, such as renewing licences and submitting taw returns.