Thousands of churches, charities, social clubs, hospitals and amateur sports clubs will be forced to accept cuts of up to 90 per cent in the rent they receive from hosting mobile phone masts under government plans to make them foot the bill for digital rollout.
MPs will vote on the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill on Wednesday. It will make it harder for site-owners to appeal against arbitrary rent cuts demanded by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), who make combined annual profits of over £30bn a year.
The Bill comes before Parliament after phone giants including BT, Virgin Media and Vodafone announced price rises that will exacerbate the country’s cost of living crisis.
If passed, the legislation will overhaul the Electronic Communications Code, which sets the framework for the price paid by operators for the land on which mobile infrastructure is based.
An independent report published in March last year by the Centre for Economics and Business (Cebr) found that revisions to the Electronic Communications code will cost small land and property owners an extra £50m per year – on top of the £209m per year the existing changes to the Code have already cost them.
Anna Turley, who chairs the Protect & Connect campaign group, said: “Mobile phone giants, who made combined pre-tax profits of £31bn in 2020 alone are holding churches, social clubs, hospitals, charities and amateur sports clubs to ransom.”
“Telecoms companies who have just imposed price rises of close to 10 per cent now want to pay site owners as little as £50 a year to host mobile phone masts. That wouldn’t even meet the cost of a monthly mobile phone bill.”
“The government should use this Bill to achieve its objective without further impoverishing farmers, sports clubs, charities and churches”, she added.
Ed Bailey, a Welsh farmer who hosts a mobile mast on his land, said: “We agreed to site a mobile phone mast on the farm in 2016. The deal was perfectly fair: we would receive £5,500-a-year for the use of our land. The operator would have 24/7 access to the mast for years to come, and be able to deliver faster broadband to our rural community.
“Six months later, however, the operator went back on its word. They reneged on our agreement and revised their offer to just £35 across a ten-year term, or £3.50 a year. This totally derisory offer was made even worse by the bitter and stressful contract negotiations which followed for the next two years.”
Protect & Connect was founded to represent small landowners and site-owners and it is calling on the government to urgently carry out the Economic Impact Assessment it was required to conduct by 2022 under the terms of Digital Economy Act 2017, which made amendments to the Code.
The group is also calling for the government to delay the passage of the Bill into law until the impact of the 2017 changes have been properly analysed and assessed.
A Speed Up Britain spokesperson told City A.M.: “With the Bill now announced, we look forward to continuing to work together with Government and industry throughout the rest of the process. Speed Up Britain is committed to providing any further support that we can to accelerate the needed roll out.”
“By enabling the quicker and easier rollout across the country, we can fulfil our promise of improving connectivity and coverage across the UK; enabling the UK to become a leader in 5G and realise billions of pounds of additional economic output that a connected country delivers.”