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Mast rental measure to boost rural broadband

19/05/16

Queen’s Speech includes carrots and sticks for broadband providers to extend superfast coverage into remote areas

Landowners will be forced to accept cheaper rental rates for telephone masts to support the delivery of faster broadband connections to rural areas.

A new law will also give communications regulator Ofcom the power to force internet providers to release data on broadband speeds and complaints, so customers can make “informed choices”.

There will also be a new right to automatic compensation for broadband failures, akin to the duty on energy companies to deliver refunds for poor performance.

The measures are all included in a Digital Economy Bill, outlined in the Queen's Speech, which will create a universal service obligation (USO) to put broadband on the same footing as utilities such as electricity and water. Residents and businesses will enjoy a legal right to demand speeds of 10Mbps, although “the very remotest properties may be expected to contribute to the cost of the installation”.

Minister's alarm

Ed Vaizey (pictured) the broadband minister, has been alarmed that companies are refusing to put in the necessary masts and other infrastructure because of high prices to rent land for masts. But now mobile operators will be able to apply to the courts to force landowners to make space available at the same price that any other buyer would pay – or face compulsory purchase orders.

ed_vaizeyVaizey said in an article for the Daily Telegraph: “Boosting broadband speeds isn't the sole responsibility of government. The commercial sector has a part to play, too, and we're helping it by cutting the red tape that's stifling action.

“This will help reduce operator costs and encourage private investment - which is essential if we are to reach the most remote locations.”

The move sits alongside previously announced plans to make it easier for companies to build taller masts without planning permission.

Last month, the Government abandoned plans to deliver superfast broadband to the “final 5%” of the country - around one million premises - as too expensive. Instead, many will be forced to settle for the USO maximum of 10Mbps – far short of the 24Mbps that is generally recognised as ‘superfast’.

However, Vaizey insisted a £200 million rebate from BT would take superfast coverage “beyond 95% and help connect hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the last 5%”.

Sell-off confirmation

Elsewhere, the Queen’s Speech confirmed the sell-off of the Land Registry, part of the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, to “support the delivery of a modern, digitally based land registration service”.

A Buses Bill - carried over from the last session - will force private bus firms to publish full data about routes, fares, timetables and delays, as pioneered by London’s publicly run network.

But some Tory backbenchers are now believed to oppose the Investigatory Powers Bill – also carried over – which will allow some Government bodies to monitor people's internet use.

Picutre from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence

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