Openreach’s Call: Easing Broadband Deployment Vs Property Rights

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A recent report from the Financial Times indicates that Openreach, the UK’s largest broadband provider, is asking the Labour party to commit to making legislation that will expedite the deployment of fibre broadband infrastructure in blocks of flats and other Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs).

At present, companies that intend to install their fibre networks in an MDU must get extensive authorizations, known as wayleaves, from the property’s landlord. The process of acquiring these permissions frequently entails a high cost and substantial delay, forming a major hurdle to nationwide fibre deployment.

Openreach CEO Clive Selley stated in the report that obtaining wayleaves could exponentially increase the cost of providing fibre to a compact block of flats. He articulated that the status quo puts these locations at risk of becoming part of a new digital divide.

What Openreach proposes is a legislative amendment that would enlarge their existing wayleave agreements with the MDUs – these currently cover the firm’s legacy copper network infrastructure installed in the buildings – thus circumventing the need for new approvals.

Openreach asserts that this legislative change would allow them and other alternative network operators (altnets) who are deploying fibre to drastically hasten their rollouts in line with government targets. Presently, Openreach aims to deploy full fibre to 25 million premises by 2026 and has so far reached around 13.5 million homes.

Concurrently, the UK government is targeting the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband – principally fibre – to 85% of the country by 2025.

Despite the acceleration of fibre deployment that would result from this action to remove the majority of MDU wayleave agreements, the plan is not without its challenges. Detractors are likely to argue that this change would trample on the rights of property owners and tenants.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology spokesperson stated that Openreach’s proposition providing network operators with entry to multi-dwelling units without landlord permission would significantly diminish the rights of property owners and occupants.

According to Selley, Labour is actively engaging and attentively listening to the company’s request. He also noted that he had previously lobbied the current the Conservative government about the same matter.

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