Introduction to the Electronic Communications Code for landowners

What is the Electronic Communications Code?

The Electronic Communications Code (Schedule 3A of the Communications Act 2003 as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017) came into force on 28 December 2017 (the “Code”).  It was brought in to support the Governments agenda to improve the digital economy given that the UK lags behind a lot of countries in connectivity terms.

It is the legislation that governs the relationship between landowners or site providers and operators of telecommunications infrastructure and networks.

Why does Electronic Communications Code matter to me?

Infrastructure providers and network operators are always seeking to improve and upgrade their networks with the ultimate aim of providing high quality access to telecommunications across the country.

Generally, these operators are not themselves land owning so they need to identify sites and use the Electronic Communications Code to secure rights over them to build out and connect a site and equipment to their network.

Operators can look at any sort of land or buildings – the important thing for them is location to enable them to fill a coverage “hole”. That means they can target anything from a field to a 30+ storey tower in London. Each would have their own unique challenges to an operator of course.

So your land could be targeted and generally an operator will not take an extensive amount of due diligence on the land in question before it approaches you.

Download the Electronic Communications Apparatus factsheet

Will I know if an operator targets my land?

Yes – the operator or its agents will contact you seeking to undertake a survey of the land in question. They might refer to the survey required as a multi-skilled visit or “MSV” for short. They may suggest that this survey would be intrusive or non-intrusive.

Can I ignore these approaches?

It is not advisable to do so – accessing land to undertake said surveys is a right the operator can exercise under the Code. If the requests are ignored, the operator can serve Code notices formally insisting on the access and ultimately can apply to the First-tier Tribunal to enforce that right and have an agreement to enable the MSV imposed on you.  

So what is advisable is cooperation with the operators but that terms of that agreement to facilitate the MSV are agreed to ensure your position is protected, access is undertaken in a way that does not compromise the use of your land or unnecessarily disrupt it and that any costs you incur as a result of the access are met. This agreement still needs to be imposed by the Tribunal, but if terms are agreed that is a straightforward process, but if terms cannot be agreed it is for the Tribunal to determine those.

What happens with the operator accesses my land?

Depending on the terms of the MSV agreement, the operator will access the land over a period of time – usually 6 months and there may be multiple visits. The operator will assess the land and its location to determine if it is suitable for their network.  

When it comes to buildings, usually the MSV is non-intrusive i.e. the operator cannot take any steps to open up any part of the building. If after the non-intrusive survey is undertaken the operator may ask to undertake instructive works and if they do a further agreement is likely to be needed and their plans interrogated.

When it comes to land, for example a field, intrusive works may not raise as many concerns and so provided the works are interrogated and catered for in the MSV agreement are usually permitted.

If the operator determines the land or building is suitable for an installation, they will make a planning application (which you may wish to comment on for various reasons) and they may issue terms for you to agree which will facilitate the installation. Again, those terms should be reviewed, considered and negotiated before they are agreed and/or documented given they will be terms impacting you for a significant amount of time.

Can I object to an installation?

You can, but there are limited grounds for doing so and you should seek advice at an early stage from your legal and/or specialist surveying team.

We would be happy to help you on these matters.

How Moore Barlow can help

Working collaboratively with our rural law colleagues, we draw on a breadth of experience and expertise to provide you with a property dispute service of the highest quality.

We have considerable experience advising commercial landlords, developers, lenders, commercial tenants, private individuals and landowners. Our approach focusses on providing advice at an early stage to help you reach a cost-effective solution as quickly as possible.