How Telcos can bully their way into unit blocks


Ever since the Federal Government embarked on its politically fraught and occasionally flawed efforts to introduce high-speed broadband to our cities, there has been a dubious tactic embraced by some (but not all) telcos to force their way into apartment blocks.

And when I say “force”, I’m referring to letters from internet service providers to strata committees demanding access to install their equipment, warning them that they dare not try to stop them lest they face grave legal consequences.

Unsuspecting committee members and inexperienced strata managers may well cave in to bullying demands that quote chapter and verse of the relevant Acts.

But do these companies have the legal powers they claim? The alarming answer seems to be that they do.

Basically, when the Telecommunications Act was enacted back in 1997 it included provisions that allowed mobile phone masts to be installed wherever they were needed.

The logic was that the requirements of a functioning network superseded aesthetic, community or planning priorities. 

Later, the Act was amended to include the installation of NBN high-speed broadband services, including clauses that forbade individuals or companies from doing anything to prevent or impede the installation of fibre optic services.

As so often occurs with legislation in this country, the law outlines what owners corporations or bodies corporate must and mustn’t do, with little regard for the consequences.

The Telecommunications Act does nothing to protect residents from being exploited by opportunists who employ its often obvious loopholes.

But what’s the problem with allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into your block?  Doesn’t everyone want and need high-speed internet these days?

There has been a range of issues reported, from the new installations removing, blocking or downgrading existing services – limiting individual consumers’ choice of ISPs – to common property being seriously damaged during the work, with no responsibility accepted by the companies concerned.

“I’m told that throughout the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Communications consultation over the years, they’ve received lots of feedback from apartment owners on some horrific practices they’ve experienced with telcos having unfettered access to their buildings,” says Karen Stiles, executive officer of strata advocates the Owners Corporation Network (OCN). 

“Poor Work Health and Safety standards have been reported, as well as a host of other issues.”

So what can strata secretaries and committees do in the face of apparently legitimate legal demands for access?

Some schemes have opted to simply ignore the letters and let the telcos make the next move.

They can’t physically bash down access doors, and the hassle and cost of seeking court orders may send them off to find easier options in less resilient buildings.

Even if the telcos do take legal action, strata schemes must surely be able to invoke their own legal responsibilities to ensure that common property is protected during “improvements”. 

That might include guarantees about the competence of the installers, maintaining the integrity of existing installations and maybe even asking for bonds against accidental damage.

Even just demanding detailed plans of how, what and where they plan to install their equipment could slow them down as well as ensuring an acceptable outcome for the apartment block.

Strata schemes faced with these demands should certainly chat to their lawyers.  In the meantime, let the telcos go and pick the low-hanging fruit.

Perhaps by the time they get back round to you, the government will realise how the current laws discriminate against strata schemes and plug the loopholes. A simple set of legally enshrined protocols that recognised strata owners’ rights would be an easily enacted and much-needed improvement for all concerned.

This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review. Click here to read more about how service providers are frustrated at the unrestricted access telcos have to our homes.

One Reply to “How Telcos can bully their way into unit blocks”

  1. DennisD says:

    Hi Jimmy

    We read with great interest your article today regarding telcos forcing their way onto private property for the benefit of their networks. We have handled over 3000 Land Access and Activity Notices (“LAANs”) over the past 8 years or so and believe that the situation is getting worse with not only the Tier 1 carriers but also the “cowboys” deploying wireless broadband networks. As you mentioned the Act has gaping holes in it and we have been trying for years to get the Minister’s office to refine and update what is in essence the 31 year legislation enacted when there were 3 carriers. Now there are over 300 registered carriers and the only basic improvement for owners was the Low Impact Determination in 1997. There are a range of strategies we employ to assist the Owners, from REIT’s to private owners, but as you mentioned, there is little we can do except make them comply with Industry Best Practices as set out in the Telco Code of Practice, which of course is still vague. If a carrier has made up its mind that they are getting on a site, without legal action, there are only limited avenues for an Owner. There was a guideline set out about 15 years ago which defined what design features were to be included, but as soon as it was enacted, and because it was unenforceable, the carriers (who all majors signed up to it) ignored it.

    We have sent numerous examples of poor workmanship, threats and other poor behaviour to the previous Minister’s office, but until the Property Council of Australia and other major property groups start putting as much pressure in Canberra as the telcos are doing, I’m afraid we are pushing stuff uphill. We need more articles like yours (and I post regularly in LinkedIn) to possibly get some momentum.

    Happy to discuss if you like, and thanks for helping the public begin to understand how poorly drafted the Act is in its current form.

    Best regards

    Dennis Doty
    Managing Director
    M: 0410 410 175
    T: 1300 748 395

    ✅ Member of the FMA ✅ Member of the PCA ✅ Accredited Wired Score Professionals
    Celebrating our Service to the Property Industry since 2005

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