Millions of people living in flats could receive faster internet speeds under Government plans to get around rogue landlords who make upgrade work difficult.
A new law is being put forward which could mean an extra 3,000 residential buildings a year will be connected to gigabit speeds, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Gigabit broadband is around 30 times the speed of superfast broadband, making it possible to download a HD film in less than 45 seconds.
Operators are required to seek permission from the building’s owner to enter the property and undertake the necessary upgrade works.
But improvements can be slow moving when landlords repeatedly ignore requests for access – and service providers say they get no response at all 40% of the time.
Companies can turn to the courts as a last resort, but this can be lengthy and the outcomes uncertain, as well as costing them a considerable amount.
“We’re pushing ahead with delivering the digital infrastructure that will underpin the UK’s future growth and boost our productivity,” said Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan, who is visiting a block of flats in Coventry being connected to gigabit-capable broadband on Thursday.
“We’ve just announced £5 billion so that people in rural communities will get gigabit speed internet at the same time as everyone else.
“And we’re now making sure people living in blocks of flats and apartments are not left behind either, and can reap the huge benefits of the fastest and most resilient internet connections.”
The Government says a new streamlined system via the existing Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) could lower the amount of time operators wait from six months to between six and seven weeks, and cost around £300 instead of an estimated £14,000.
However, firms will need to ensure they have sent a sufficient number of notices and made serious attempts to gain access, and the Government will also legislate so that landlords will be able to challenge the making of such an order.
“This new law is something Virgin Media has long called for – it breaks through a major broadband barrier as we invest to bring gigabit speeds to our entire, ever-growing network,” said Lutz Schuler, chief executive of Virgin Media.
“Giving broadband builders clear and efficient access rights will mean the many forgotten flats across the country can get the next-generation connectivity they deserve.”
Openreach said that while the news is welcome, there is still more to do.
“Every 28 seconds we pass a home or business with our new future-proofed full fibre network but changes to fibre business rates, mandatory full fibre for new builds, and an environment that generally encourages greater investment could turbo charge the build,” a spokesman said.
David Smith, policy director for the Residential Landlords Association, added: “We recognise how important it is that tenants should have access to high speed broadband.
“It is in a landlord’s interests to be able to offer it as it makes their properties more attractive to prospective tenants.
“The RLA will work constructively with the Government to ensure that any difficulties in implementing enhanced access rights are addressed such as broadband companies ensuring they have the right contact details for a landlord.”
Boris Johnson has made faster internet connections one of his goals as Prime Minister, saying he wants full fibre available across the country “for all by 2025”.