Almost two years after the law was changed, reducing phone mast rents is not looking good.
Almost two years after the law was changed, CTIL expected to be well on their way to reducing phone mast rents across the UK, but they have suffered some major setbacks and things are not looking good.
The judgement in Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure Ltd v. Compton Beauchamp Estates Ltd stated that the owner of the land (CBE) was unable to confer code rights on CTIL because it was not in occupation of the site at the time. The land was already leased to Vodafone Ltd, which had remained in occupation after the expiry of their lease.
CTIL appealed this decision, but it was recently upheld. This is a blow for CTIL whose main purpose is to manage O2 and Vodafone’s networks across the UK. Their preference was to secure all new agreements in the name of CTIL, not O2 and Vodafone, as was the case previously. This leaves them with few options. One, which is suggested by the judge in the appeal, is to assign the existing lease from Vodafone to CTIL, making CTIL the occupier of the land. Another is to seek a new agreement in the name of the current tenant (i.e. O2 and Vodafone) which brings into question the relevance and purpose of CTIL.
Despite the Digital Economy Act being passed in December 2017, very little progress has been made by operators to date. So far, they have suffered a significant delay in the rollout of new sites and mounting costs due to the greed with which they approached negotiations from the beginning. Landlords have been suitably insulted by the minuscule rents on offer, often as low as £50 per annum. The Government in their Impact Assessment expected a 40% reduction in phone mast rents to be achieved. Maybe less, considering the operator may offer more to maintain good landlord and tenant relations. This was far from what actually happened, and the result is possibly the slowest rollout of new sites since networks began, the exact opposite of what the new law was intended to achieve.