Share with your colleagues:

US vs. UK: Contrasting full fibre legislative approaches

When it comes to bringing lightning-fast full fibre broadband to their citizens, both the United Kingdom and the United States face common hurdles, yet differ significantly in their legislative approaches and the challenges encountered during planning and installation. Sharon McDermott, our co-founder and managing director, delved deeper in a recent article with Total Telecom…

One of the most substantial obstacles in the United Kingdom is the perennial issue of wayleave agreements — a thorn in the side of any full fibre initiative. Landlords retain the authority to either accept or reject operators’ requests to install the required infrastructure within their buildings, meaning that work can often be blocked. This predicament mirrors the situation across the Atlantic, where tenants may find themselves in buildings with outdated, slow broadband, necessitating convincing the freeholder to embrace installation in order to gain a faster connection.

However, under the UK’s electronic communications code (the Code) — part of the Communications Act 2003 — operators can apply to the court to gain access to a property where previously they’ve not been able to come to an agreement with the freeholder. Interestingly, the United States lacks an equivalent legislative framework like this. This void in legislation implies that, during the rollout process, new laws may be required to expedite the deployment of full fibre networks. 

Currently, telecommunications in the US are mainly regulated by the Communications Act of 1934 as Amended (Communications Act). It governs the telecommunications and media sectors, with the non-executive Federal Communications Commission (FCC) serving as the primary regulatory authority. Historically, telecommunications facility siting has been predominantly regulated by state and local land use laws. The Act, while preserving local authority, imposes certain limitations and encourages network sharing among operators under regulated terms.

In contrast to the UK’s regulatory body, Ofcom, the United States entrusts the FCC with primary oversight of the telecommunications industry, operating as an independent agency, led by up to five commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Importantly, no more than three commissioners can belong to the same political party, with one of the majority party’s commissioners appointed as the Chair.

One crucial aspect to watch will be how the FCC handles uncooperative landlords and freeholders, when compared to the UK’s approach. It will be interesting to see if it will adopt a more forceful stance and expedite the passage of legislation to ensure cooperation. 

Additionally, how operators contend with legal expenses incurred while dealing with solicitors representing freeholders and landlords for consents and wayleaves, as well as demands for compensation for subpar work, remains a question. Could we witness similar considerations as seen in the UK?

In both the UK and the US, the overarching goal is to bridge the digital divide caused by varying access to broadband that has perpetuated economic disparities in underserved communities for decades. An estimated 30 million people in the United States currently find themselves within this gap.

Given the vast expanse of the USA, a multifaceted approach will be necessary for full fibre deployment. Traditional methods such as underground ducting and cable installation will be insufficient on their own. Wireless technologies will play a pivotal role in extending connectivity to both rural and urban areas. This diversified strategy is essential to ensure the commercial viability of providing full fibre access to every premise.

Ultimately, the core objective in both nations is to provide tenants with access to future-proof, high-speed full fibre broadband. This is especially vital in an era where the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to expand its reach. The question arises: why should the decision lie with freeholders and landlords when operators stand ready to deliver the essential infrastructure?

Therefore, while both the United Kingdom and the United States grapple with similar challenges in their pursuit of full fibre broadband, their legislative frameworks and regulatory authorities differ significantly. As both countries strive to bring the benefits of high-speed internet to all, operators and unconnected communities wait with anticipation to see how they navigate the complexities of modern telecommunications infrastructure deployment.


Hear from our experts

Read more latest news, insights and views from Trenches Law