A right to internet access
Do people living in the UK have a right to internet access? Is there such a thing as a human right to internet? Currently, the answer to both of these questions is ‘no’. Recently introduced laws, however, mean that homeowners and tenants in the UK do now have greater rights in relation to internet access.
Faster internet access in new builds
Two new laws regarding internet access in the UK came into force on 26 December 2022. The first of these requires that all newly built homes in England be built with gigabit broadband connections. This rule was added into The Building Regulations 2010 by The Building etc. (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2022.
What is gigabit internet?
Gigabit internet is internet that delivers download speeds of up to 1 gigabit (ie 1,000 megabits) per second. This is high-speed internet, access to which is extremely useful for most modern households, whether for entertainment, social connection, or productivity purposes.
Do all new builds need to have gigabit internet access?
The new law aims to achieve fast internet access for most (if not all) homes across the country. However, there is a £2,000 cap in place. This means that developers do not have to install gigabit internet in a home if they cannot do so for less than £2,000. In these instances, however, they must still install infrastructure in the home capable of running gigabit internet along with the fastest connection available under the parameters.
Faster internet access in blocks of flats
The second new law that came in last December is aimed at making it easier for residents of blocks of flats to obtain faster internet. The law comes from the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021. It gives tenants of blocks of flats or apartments an alternative method of arranging to have faster internet installed, a procedure which usually requires the landlord to give permission for the broadband company to install necessary equipment. Under the new law, if a landlord doesn’t respond to a company’s request for access within 35 days, the company may seek access via the courts so that they can install the equipment required to provide a faster connection. This new law only applies in England and Wales, but a similar law is expected in Scotland later this year.
The right to request a decent broadband service
The laws introduced in December 2022 aren’t the only laws in the UK that support people’s access to internet. The Universal Service Obligation (USO) was created under the authority of the Digital Economy Act 2017 and came into effect in 2020. It gives people the right to request an upgraded internet connection for their home or business from BT (or from KCOM if they live in the Hull area) if they can’t get a download speed of 10 megabits per second and an upload speed of 1 megabit per second.
BT (or KCOM) must then carry out checks and respond within 30 days, stating whether the relevant property is eligible for an upgraded connection. A property may be ineligible if, for example, it will be covered by a public broadband service within the next 12 months. If a property is eligible, the company will provide information about costs (costs are usually covered if the connection will cost less than £3,400) and will carry out the work required to update the property’s internet connection. For more information, read Ofcom’s guidance on the USO.
Do landlords have an obligation to provide internet?
Landlords do not have a legal obligation to provide or pay for internet services for their tenants. Moreover, if tenants want to install internet in a way that requires making changes to a property (eg drilling holes in walls to install fibre), they will usually need the landlord’s permission to make the changes and sometimes that of a head landlord (or multiple head landlords). It’s a good idea to get any necessary permissions in writing (eg by using a Landlord consent to alterations letter).
Landlords should always respond promptly to requests to install high-speed internet, to help maintain good landlord-tenant relationships and to avoid issues, for example, tenants seeking alternative access under the new Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021 laws.
If you’re a landlord, providing internet for tenants can help you to attract and retain tenants. Even if you don’t pay the monthly connection charges, equipping your property so that tenants can efficiently activate fast internet themselves can increase a property’s attractiveness as a rental. This is particularly true in the modern era of hybrid working and constant content streaming.
You can use Tenancy agreements to set out how internet payments are handled in your rental properties.
So a universal right to internet does not yet exist. A right to internet in the UK doesn’t either. But faster internet is becoming increasingly widespread in the UK, with social necessity and new laws fuelling its expansion. Additional laws increasing access to the internet may be on the horizon.