OFT makes special exemption for bumpkins' wayleave charges
Milking the cows of
industry BT to speed up broadband rollout
Getting faster broadband connections in rural areas remains a bugbear for many of the locals who live in the harder-to-reach parts of Blighty. So clarification from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) on competition law relating to wayleave rates has been unsurprisingly welcomed by landowners in the countryside today.
The regulator has published a short-form opinion [PDF], which was sent to the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), that it said clarified exactly how competition law was applied to the recommendation of a rate to be charged by their members for allowing broadband cables to cross their land.
Landowners receive fees on an annual or one-off basis to cover wayleave rates, allowing, for example, comms' providers such as BT to install, maintain and repair broadband cabling on private land.
The OFT said - as part of the effort to speed up delivery of speedier net connections in rural settings - that the NFU and CLA would set a wayleave rate that would be below current commercial fees paid to landowners. Or else urge their members to altogether waiver the charges in relation to the laying of mainly backhaul cabling, the rollout of which presents "the biggest challenge", in return for, say, a broadband connection.
"Their aim is to speed up the roll out of rural broadband services, where time-consuming negotiations between many individual landowners and broadband providers to agree wayleave rates have contributed to delays to rural broadband projects," the watchdog said.
But the groups first needed the OFT to clarify whether such a plan was compatible with competition law.
The watchdog concluded:
The guidance published by the OFT notes that, in general terms, the recommendation of fixed prices by a trade association to its members is likely to restrict competition and breach competition law.
However, on the basis of the information provided, the OFT considers that in this case the recommendation could meet the criteria for individual exemption from the Competition Act 1998.
The OFT notes, in particular, that the recommendation is capable of generating benefits that outweigh the restriction of competition it creates, by speeding up the roll out of effective broadband to people living in rural areas.
The idea that wealthy landowners, farmers and other rural businesses needed access to faster broadband was endorsed by the regulator, reflecting culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's one-track-mind on the topic.
In a joint statement, the associations said:
We are pleased the OFT has recognised the proposed recommendations could meet the criteria for an individual exemption from competition law, and that they are intended to confer wider benefits in terms of a greater deployment of rural broadband infrastructure.
The NFU and CLA now need to read the OFT's Opinion in detail and to assess fully the competition law implications of the proposed recommendations in the light of this Opinion, before commenting further.
Hardly a hunter-gatherer
Earlier this week, Hunt slightly revised his frankly clear-as-mud plan to turn the UK into having the fastest connected broadband coverage in Europe (with lots of caveats) by 2015.
Anyone closely reading his words will note the following: Hunt said he hoped to see Britain equipped with the "fastest broadband of any major European country" without telling us which major nations in the EU he was referring to.
Surely, old Jez isn't being disingenuous about exactly how the now-delayed-due-to-EU-intervention-on-competition-concerns-regarding-state-aid relating to the BDUK rollout, is he?
What now appears to be clear is that Hunt is no longer making the absurd claim to gift the UK with the "best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015". Belgium, Romania, Latvia, the Netherlands... you get the picture... were always a threat to Britain especially given that in the most recent quarter, its broadband speed score in Europe was miserably spotted languishing in 15th place. ®
Re: Just how much is paid for these wayleaves ?
I think the net loss to the landowner when I undergrounded 600 m of 11KV that crossed over my house at second storey level - so I could BUILD a second story - was about £250 p.a. More than made up for by the fact that he can now plough straight across and harvest straight across the field without knocking down any poles, and use grab loaders without risk of electrocution.
However in this case the 600m included a dog leg to take the cable away from farmland down a track and onto the road verge. Because undergrounding on farmland is bad news. Subsoil ploughing and mole ploughing to enrich the soil and create better drainage goes very deep, and laying field drains even deeper.
In fact cable/fibre laying across farm land is not nearly as simple as it sounds. The machinery as I said goes deep enough to be in range of buried conduits, and above ground plenty of kit the farmer will use is capable of being raised well above ground level. So whatever cables are laid are an inconvenience to the farmer. The better place to play cable is along or under access roads, or public highways.
I haven't been following this story, but the involvement of the NUT and CLA is very good news. Nothing would be worse than imposing a solution on landowners the way the public rights of way have been imposed - here there are two footpaths that are dutifully sprayed off every year to provide certifed muddy rights of way, duly marked, straight across fields - and these are never used, because the parallel farm tracks are made available by the landowner and are far more suitable for walking. I asked the landowner why he didn't 'get te footpath moved' - a sharp intake of breath 'and get the Ramblers Association accusing me of trying to close a Right Of Way, have protestors all over my land, and end up spending £50,000 in legal fees and getting my tyres slashed? No way. You walk on my tracks all you want, your dogs can shit anywhere they want - its not public land, and it do the crops a power of good, and let those fools in the Ramblers Association mark up their paths that no one uses. Sleeping dogs, boy, sleeping dogs".
Most landowners I know would be neutral to positive to getting little or nothing in wayleave PROVIDED that their needs to farm the land are addressed, and they are consulted with about suitable routes and provided the contractors don't leave a mess behind. I've got am 11KV line running under my land, but the electricity grid sat down and talked about where best to put it and its been mostly fine there.
Id be perfectly happy to have copper or fibre buried under it provided it was beyond any digging I might do. I'd be upset if they strung it over the top though.
rental income that is peanuts is no compensation for making it awkward to do agribusiness or ugly to look at..
Just how much is paid for these wayleaves ?
Bugger all, I have two poles with supporting wires and 144m of underground stuff, 63 quid a year, and they can gain access and arse about as much as they want. Compare this with openreach's charge of £123 to a service provider who wanted to rent one sub-duct in the main duct under the land or 175.20 for one line rental.