16 June 2024

MPs quiz telecoms chiefs in row over broadband poles

MPs from Hull and the East Riding have met with the chief executives of KCOM, MS3 and Connexin in a bid to find a resolution to the controversial issue of broadband poles being installed in streets across the region.

The meeting, organised by Sir David Davis and held in Parliament with local MPs including Graham Stuart, Dame Diana Johnson and Karl Turner, heard a frank exchange of views and strong cross-party condemnation of the behaviour of the telecoms firms.

All MPs attending the meeting were clear that the failure to share infrastructure was having an unacceptable impact on their constituents, who are seeing their areas blighted by a proliferation of telegraph poles.

A clear request was made to the chief executives to come together to find a solution to sharing infrastructure and prevent further disruption being caused to residents.

KCOM’s chief executive, Tim Shaw, on Monday, January 22, intending to resolve the outstanding issues.

The MPs have requested the chief executives attend a further meeting after Connexin’s meeting with KCOM to provide MPs with an update.

Speaking after the meeting, Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart said: “It’s good to have MS3, Connexin and KCOM in a room together to explain their actions regarding poles in the East Riding and Hull.

“All MPs in the area have had significant public concern about the erection of these poles, and the public is very clear: they deserve better than to be pawns in telecommunication companies’ network rollouts.

“I’ll continue to encourage companies to engage better with the public and take complaints seriously, while MPs work with the Government and Ofcom to find a long-term solution to providing broadband competition in our area.

“I’m clear that the right place to deliver broadband is underground – and all companies should be working together to achieve that.”

KCOM chief executive Tim Shaw said: “I was more than happy to meet with our local MPs and other broadband providers yesterday to discuss the issue of telegraph poles which is affecting so many local communities. Indeed, I have been in regular contact with all local stakeholders for the past year.

“It was a great opportunity to publicly restate our position that we stand ready to work with other providers to provide fair and reasonable access to our infrastructure should they apply in the correct manner, which has always been the case. I look forward to the meeting with Connexin on January 22 to discuss the request for infrastructure access they made just before Christmas.”

Last week, at a full meeting of East Riding Council, councillors unanimously voted to call on Ofcom to launch an emergency market review, as up to 80 residents from across the county protested outside the authority’s Beverley HQ.

Ofcom’s next scheduled market review in the area is not due until 2026.

During the meeting, Cllr Leo Hammond, cabinet member for planning, explained the council’s role and the limited powers it has to prevent or influence the installation of poles. Cllr Hammond said: “I have to make clear now that we do not have the power to stop the installation of poles for fixed-line broadband, or require that the apparatus be underground, as these poles are permitted development under national planning policy and therefore, do not require planning permission.”

Putting forward her motion, Cllr Coleen Gill said: “I move that this council, having not yet received a reply from the Government to the letter sent as a result of its motion on this matter from July 2023, write to Ofcom calling on it to launch an emergency market review in the Hull Telecoms Area ahead of the next scheduled review in 2026, due to the expansion of more telegraph poles being installed in areas across the Hull Telecoms Area, already served by an existing gigabit capable duct and pole network.”

In response to two questions from members of the public, Cllr Hammond said the council was “well aware” of residents’ concerns and was working with local councillors to try to support people “when and where we can”.

However, he stressed that, while councillors had been working hard to lobby the telecoms firms and the Government, including local MPs, the council was limited it as to what it could do.

Cllr Hammond said: “The council has a limited input from both a Planning Authority and Highway Authority perspective on the installation of poles and has been working with providers within the powers available to us through relevant legislation.

“I must make it clear now, the council does not have the authority to refuse the installation of poles for fixed-line broadband or [insist] that communication apparatus must be underground, as these poles are permitted development under national planning policy. So, we cannot stop the erection of poles on planning grounds.”

He pointed out that utility operators such as MS3 and Connexin were regulated by Ofcom under the Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003, and not by the council.

A spokesman for the campaign group Going Underground said: “The council has recently seen an increase in complaints about the deployment of telegraph poles in the county, particularly from Hedon, Cottingham and Hessle which are the first areas targeted in the county by alternative network builders (altnets).

“Altnets must comply with a number of statutory obligations when installing their networks. These include ‘requirements to share apparatus, use underground rather than overground lines and minimise the visual impact on the surrounding area’. The perplexing way in which these obligations have been translated and written into legislation has led to the opposite taking place.

“Broad community support has not been maintained for the rollout of this infrastructure – poor operator practice while undertaking street works has undermined it. The numerous health and safety breaches and inspection requirements have resulted in an increased workload for streetworks and highways departments.

“Across the country, altnets have been allowed to build their networks in cities, towns and villages virtually unchallenged, with little accountability and very little regulatory oversight. Local councils have been perplexed by the confusing legislation and calls for clarity from the Government have not been met. This has led to the rollout of altnets continuing, with them very much in the driving seat.

“We have an opportunity in the East Riding to seek clarity, to seek accountability, and to seek better regulation. This can be achieved by testing the legislation and reporting the altnets to Ofcom for non-compliance with its obligations.

“The rollout of networks should be stopped as an impetus to the Ofcom investigations while this process takes place.”