South Africans who have mobile network towers installed on their properties could be compensated with attractive rental fees.
Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams recently gazetted a new policy on the deployment of communications networks in South Africa – which aims to accommodate the accelerated deployment of electronic communications networks, such as LTE and 5G networks.
Among other provisions, the proposed policy aims to expand the existing rights of network operators to access private property to construct network infrastructure.
This has angered many South Africans, many of whom are concerned that mobile network operators and other telecoms companies will now have the right to lay claim to private land without the necessary permissions or any sort of compensation.
MyBroadband spoke to MTN Executive of Corporate Affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan about the rollout of telecoms infrastructure on private property.
O’Sullivan said that neither the current nor the proposed legislation compels or exempts compensation to the property owner.
When MTN identifies a site which can address a capacity or coverage gap, it will typically enter into a ground rental lease agreement with the property owner.
O’Sullivan explained that the rental fee would be related to space usage and electricity consumption, and is market-related and aligned to a willing landlord-tenant lease agreement.
“Property surveyor norms as seen in many government departments point to about R7,000 per month currently, but this drops based on the demand or value of the land,” O’Sullivan said.
In instances where a property owner experiences low cellular connectivity (a coverage gap), they can request to have equipment installed on a zero rental agreement.
While they won’t be compensated for the installation, they will benefit from increased network performance in that location.
Private land use
O’Sullivan explained that in about 50% of radio network rollouts, base stations need to be built upon privately-owned properties.
“MTN uses technical radio coverage polygons to determine potential nominal positions for a new site, which would address a capacity or coverage gap,” O’Sullivan said.
“Landowners within that radius would then be approached and a ground space or rental agreement entered into, which commences if or when the legislative permitting processes are concluded,” she added.
These processes can include civil aviation, environmental and town planning, land use rights applications, as well as public participation.
If all approvals are in place, MTN can then erect the required infrastructure.
Impact of the new policy
O’Sullivan further addressed fears that mobile network operators would be able to simply lay claim to private land under the proposed legislation.
She said it was important to note that the proposed policy is still only a draft and in fact refers to market-related agreed-upon compensation for the property owner.
The draft policy states that reasonable access fees may be charged in cases where more intrusive electronic communications networks or facilities, such as masts, are erected on the property.
“In such cases, any access fee must be reasonable in proportion to the disadvantage suffered and must not enrich the property owner or exploit the electronic communications network service licensee,” it adds.
O’Sullivan noted the draft is open to comment by all interested parties, ensuring that the final policy will be a robust and balanced document that addresses the concerns of all parties.
“Following this process, the policy direction requires ICASA to develop regulations (which itself will be subject to public comment) in order to bring the applicable aspects into effect,” O’Sullivan added.
Rapid deployment of infrastructure
She added that it was important to note that the draft policy and policy direction referenced is based on the rapid deployment of electronic communications network and facilities and is not specific to 5G but includes copper, fibre, and other technology mediums.
This rapid deployment policy would ease the laborious task of obtaining wayleaves and other necessary permits for the deployment of wireless and wired telecoms equipment, which means it could drastically speed up the rollout of fibre in addition to improved mobile network connectivity.
Under the current regulations, this process can take up to 18 months.
“This lag in providing services does little to enable a digital environment for all. As such, an initiative that allows for the development of a rapid deployment framework is welcomed,” O’Sullivan said.