What the 5G rollout means for your land

Michael Watson, partner at Shulmans LLP, discusses the planned 5G rollout and the effect it could have on your land…

Farmers have previously allowed telecommunications operators to install mobile phone masts and other apparatus on their land to generate additional income from their real estate assets. This free market worked well when upgrading the networks to 3G and 4G.  However, major problems lie ahead with the rollout of 5G because the market for mast sites has effectively seized up.

The new Electronic Communications Code was brought into effect in December 2017. This substantial piece of legislation has had a significant impact upon the relationship between landlords and the telecommunications companies. Since the new code came into force, telecoms operators have slashed the prices they are prepared to offer in order to be able to install their apparatus on farmland. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in landowners withdrawing from the market.

Network operators want the use of landowners’ properties for business without paying very much at all – and if the owners do not agree, they will ask the tribunal to impose their terms regardless. 

Rollout of 5G imminentMichael Watson, partner at Shulmans LLP, discusses the planned 5G rollout and the effect it could have on your land

With the rollout of 5G imminent, and already in place in some cities, this process might accelerate, so the farming sector needs to be prepared.  Landowners need to carefully consider whether they are prepared to make their assets available for the use of network operators, regardless of whether they are willing to defend their assets.

Anyone currently managing a portfolio of assets which derives income from telecoms apparatus needs to be aware that they are likely to be targeted for significant reductions in payment, and they can realistically expect to be threatened with action under the Code.  Those in the farming sector, particularly those who manage or own assets with telecommunications apparatus, should not wait until an approach is received from an operator to renew any agreements, as the opportunity for developing an effective strategy may have already been compromised.

After many years of reaching consensual agreements, the new Code, coupled with the approach of network operators, has alienated the very people upon whose cooperation the telecommunications sector previously relied. Until there is a fundamental change of approach by the network operators, the farming industry must to face up to the reality of the new Code and either accede to the demands of the operators or prepare and respond accordingly.

To seek expert advice before entering into a dialogue with network operators, see shulmans.co.uk