COVID-19 and Telecommunications Infrastructure – Government Guidance

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has recently published guidance for network operators to emphasise the importance of telecommunications infrastructure in England during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The government has recognised the importance of the telecommunications sector during the COVID-19 outbreak. Telecommunications has been included as one of the critical sectors and telecommunications field engineers, network operations staff, IT and data infrastructure workers are government designated key workers.

The government position is that fully operational telecommunications infrastructure is required to facilitate communication for businesses and homeworkers during lockdown, as well as providing vital connectivity to the emergency services and hospitals. The government has placed importance on the ability of network operators to have access to their apparatus on sites in order to remedy any network outages or to improve existing services.

In seeking to protect and maintain telecommunications infrastructure and electronic communication, the guidance raises some interesting issues for owners of land on which telecommunication equipment is sited. Some of the key measures outlined in the guidance are as follows:

  • Unlike the social distancing policies prescribed by the government, the DCMS guidance permits the gathering of more than two people in one place if the purpose is to undertake works to the network (this includes emergency repair, critical upgrades and routine maintenance)
  • Landowners and occupiers are required to continue to allow emergency access rights to their property/land where this has been contractually agreed with network operators
  • Contractual obligations between landowners and telecommunications providers should continue to be observed, particularly provisions relating to access to sites to inspect, maintain, adjust, repair or upgrade electronic communications equipment.
  • The guidance explicitly mentions local authorities and how they should continue to work with the telecommunications industry. For example, in relation to streetworks, the guidance states that network maintenance and fault repairs, customer repairs, network build and increasing network capacity should be allowed to continue.

Landowners and/or occupiers who have entered into contractual agreements (often known as ‘Code Agreements’) with network operators should consider the government guidance alongside the contractual provisions of any Code Agreement in place – especially in light of any requests for access to undertake works.

Nevertheless, landowners should note that the guidance is just that – guidance. It does not provide network operators with additional powers beyond what they may already have under contract or under existing telecommunications legislation. Landowners should seek legal advice to ensure that they understand their rights under any Code Agreement, especially in connection with any prospective request for operator access.

Sharpe Pritchard’s telecommunications advisory team offers advice and guidance to landowners across the full spectrum of property and planning issues arising from telecommunications installation and operation. We act solely for landowners, which allows us to offer our clients a fully dedicated, conflict-free service and have experience working alongside project teams and specialist telecommunications surveyors.

If you have a query with regards an existing Code Agreement or an arrangement with a network operator, please contact a member of our team on 0207 405 4600 for a free initial consultation.

This article is for general awareness only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Law and guidance relating to the COVID19 pandemic is continually being updated and the law may have changed since this page was first publishedIf you would like further advice and assistance in relation to any issues raised, please contact us today by telephone or email  covidhelp@sharpepritchard.co.uk.

Posted in Coronavirus (COVID-19), James Nelson, Real Estate, planning and regeneration, Sarah Wertheim, Telecommunications Advisory Service.