London Officials Say 5G Will Be Stalled Two Years Over Local Disputes


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With over 15 thousand new small cell sites projected by 2025, in London, government officials instituted new building codes to speed the buildout. Due to ambiguous wording in the legislation on access to “street furniture,” the plan may throw a roadblock into 5G development for the city, according to the Guardian.

Theo Blackwell, London’s chief digital officer said the code’s lack of guidance resulted in expensive and lengthy litigation by mobile network operators clamoring for public access to streetlights and right-of-ways around London. 

“The government have in fact delayed deployments by two years, whilst the new code is being tested in the courts,” Blackwell said.

Many disputes, reported the Guardian, centered on how much rent can be charged to mobile operators for mounting 5G transmitters on lampposts and other tall structures. Alicia Foo, a lawyer at Pinsent Masons, a firm representing carriers, said: “Our court system takes a long time so a two-year delay is not inconceivable. Everyone thought the new code was going to be this brave new world of faster connectivity, but on the question of money it has become very polarized between landowners and operators. I wonder whether the government was taken aback by the sheer number of operators who just want to have a go.”

Dates for hearings in new disputes are not available until next year at the earliest.

In Westminster, the city council’s arrangement for 5G services with Ontix is being challenged by major operator British Telecom (BT) on the basis that it would “prevent competition on individual lampposts.” He said the dispute threatened to be a “recurring theme” for other councils, and claimed the challenge stalled the rollout of 5G in Westminster.

A city official said five other London boroughs had been threatened with litigation by BT for alleged similar abuses of the code and it was “disingenuous” for operators to demand open access in lucrative areas while ignoring incentives to provide any coverage in rural areas. “Never mind 4G, there are areas of our county that don’t get 3G or in some cases 2G,” he said, “and in some patches there’s no signal at all. It’s the rural areas where we have to step in and give the market a shake-up.”

A BT spokesperson responded with: “We’re working with local, regional and national governments to roll out even better connectivity to the areas that need it most as quickly and efficiently as possible. Ensuring that street furniture can be used to host digital infrastructure will become increasingly important to deliver the services customers will expect. So, working closely with councils, we’re keen to remove existing barriers to access, reflecting the approach set out in the new electronic communications code.”

BT told the Guardian, the company handed back nine exclusivity deals it previously had with other councils to demonstrate its commitment to open access.  

“We would be only too happy to offer mobile network operators whatever they wish in order to improve the connectivity of our residents, but there’s been a barren response,” he said. “We must give our residents equal opportunities and would like to see mobile operators to do the same,” the company spokesperson said.

May 31, 2019

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