BT urges city councils to end street furniture exclusivity agreements

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BT is calling for an end to exclusive concessions agreements governing access to council-owned street furniture.

The operator says taking a new ‘open access’ approach will speed up the delivery of 4G and 5G services and boost mobile coverage in city centres. BT is offering to go first and end its own exclusivity agreements with nine UK councils to show the industry what’s possible.

Many local authorities currently operate a concessions model which grants a single mobile operator or infrastructure provider exclusive access to council-owned street furniture such as lamp posts and CCTV columns to host mobile network equipment.

Speeding up 5G

Under the concessions model, other mobile operators who wish to access the same physical infrastructure to locate their equipment need to pay a wholesale charge to the provider that holds the exclusive agreement with the local authority.

BT is suggesting that, instead, all mobile operators should have equal access to street furniture, and pay a low-cost flat fee to the local authority.
The company argues that removing the current barriers to using street furniture will encourage mobile operators to invest in improving mobile coverage, capacity and speeds in towns and cities across the UK.

It says this will bring greater and more reliable connectivity, increased competition and lower prices to residents and businesses, and could potentially speed up the delivery of 5G services in these areas by encouraging greater deployment of small cells technology.

Times change

Paul Ceely, Director of Network Strategy, BT Group, said: “While the concessions model made sense in the early 2010s when it first came into common use, the market and regulatory landscape have changed and it’s become clear that exclusivity agreements act as a barrier to further 4G and 5G investments.

"Government initiatives such as the DCMS Barrier Busting taskforce are showing the way, but we believe that industry needs to act. We are leading the way by handing back exclusivity in nine key areas."

He continued, “The UK needs an alternative approach which sees industry and local authorities working together to share these street sites in an open and collaborative way. This will create the right environment for long-term investment and innovation in future mobile networks.

"We believe Open Access will be critical in ensuring the UK has the best mobile infrastructure in place to maintain its position as one of the world’s leading digital economies.”

Shared agenda

BT plans to hold a workshop with local authorities and mobile network operators in April to explain the benefits of the open access approach and discuss the options for how this model might work in practice.

The event will be hosted in Birmingham by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and trade association Mobile UK. WMCA was recently selected to build the UK’s first region-wide 5G test bed, the West Midlands Urban Connected Communities 5G Project (UCC).

Henry Kippin, Director of Public Service Reform at the WMCA, said, “One of the reasons why the West Midlands was chosen as the location for the UK’s first region-wide 5G test bed was our commitment as a region to do what it takes to work with operators to get the 5G networks we need built in the fastest, fairest and most cost effective way.”

“The timing and spirit of this Open Access initiative is ideal as we will make faster progress through operators and public services working together to a shared agenda so that 5G can fulfil its full potential in driving economic growth that can benefit all our diverse communities. We are looking forward to welcoming authorities from across the UK and all the mobile operators who will come together and set out a new way of working together.”