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News & opinion

22 NOV 2022

RICS Telecoms ADR

A means to support collaboration and inclusive dialogue, and help resolve conflicts in the telecoms sector.

It seems strange looking back over the past two and a half years. The world which went into lockdown in March 2020 seems to be a very different place to the here and now.

In the two months before Covid really hit the headlines in the UK and the first lockdown started, i.e. January and February 2020, I spoke at two face-to-face events in London. I tutored on two training courses in Birmingham, and I joined in four meetings at venues at different locations across the UK. Altogether, I travelled for hours and many hundreds of miles in my car, on trains and by air. I met and talked to a total of just under 200 people. I spent lots of time behind the wheel of my car, often idling in slow-moving traffic, or sitting on busy trains which rarely arrived or departed on time. When I was not attending external meetings and events, I travelled each day by car and train to the RICS office in Birmingham, leaving my home in Warwickshire at about 6:00 am and getting home at around 6:00 pm. During those two months in 2020, I never once used Zoom, MS Teams or any other online platform. I had only occasionally shopped online before 2020, and I was not au fait with subscription-based streaming services. I imagine my work life and overall level of engagement with modern communications technology generally was not unique.

Fast forward to September and August 2022. A very different two months. I attended 24 online events and met and talked to over 7,000 people in London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Dublin, Toronto, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Beijing and Sydney. At one event alone, over 1,000 people registered to attend and listen to me and others talk about the benefits of ADR in the built environment. I had regular, almost daily, Zoom meetings with RICS project partners in Canada, where we are developing a cutting-edge ADR service for the construction sector. Using MS Teams, I met senior judges in India and government officials from all corners of the UK and the Irish Republic. There were over 30,000 views of online material that I had posted about ADR and the services which RICS provides to help people and businesses avoid, manage and resolve disputes. During these two months, I rarely left my home in Warwickshire to attend work-related meetings or events. I spent lots more of my time being productive rather than sitting in a mostly stationary car or squeezed into a packed train. I haven’t once needed to leave home at an unearthly hour, and I have usually been sitting in my kitchen by 5:00 pm each evening, often enjoying a cup of tea and a sticky bun (delivered by Ocado), perhaps watching another episode of the fantastic drama “Better Call Saul” on Netflix after a solid, and fruitful, day’s work.

Since 2020, the demand for online services has increased, not just for me, but on a colossal scale. From video conferencing to cloud-based data management, grocery shopping and fashion retail to entertainment streaming services, business and social lives, across the UK and globally, have truly moved online, and there are no signs of things returning back to where they were in pre-Covid times. I expect that, if communications technology and infrastructure can keep pace with increasing numbers of users and the need for improved efficiency, the new environment, which I and many others now embrace, is not just here to stay, it will evolve and continue to change and enhance our lives at home and at work.

Putting in place the digital infrastructure to support increasing demand for fast, reliable, widespread connectivity has become a key priority for much of the population. It is a “must do” for the future of our social and economic future. However, if this is really going to happen, then some long-standing difficulties need to be resolved.  One such difficulty can be politely described as persistent lack of constructive engagement between two sides who we identify as network operators and site providers. In more strident terms, they often have problems dealing with conflict and disputes.

In 2020, The RICS Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) was invited by the Telecoms Forum to scope a tailored ADR service for the Telecoms sector. After two years of consultation and development, and a lot of hard work and commitment by many dedicated professionals who lent their support to the initiative, RICS DRS launched the Telecoms ADR Service earlier this year. In truth, the ADR Service is an integral part of wider initiatives around positive dialogue and collaboration, which are being promulgated by the DCMS Access to Land Workshop (ALW) and led by the inimitable Sue Doane.

The ADR service is designed primarily to facilitate meaningful dialogue between network operators and site providers. A credible and impartial mediator, appointed by RICS, undertakes to get both sides talking to each other on even terms and in a safe environment. The mediator’s objectives are to help both sides to avoid unnecessary tensions, which can lead to a deterioration in their relationship,  and help them to achieve a mutually agreed way forward.

In some cases, parties may find themselves grappling with a particular issue or question on which they can’t agree. Such circumstances can too often lead to matters ending up in slow and costly litigation. The Telecoms ADR Service provides the option of referring a disputed matter to the decision of an impartial expert appointed independently by RICS. The parties can choose if the impartial expert’s  decision is to be binding, or if it is to be non-binding and then perhaps used as a means to inform a negotiated settlement.

The fact that the RICS Telecoms ADR Service is up and running does not detract from the reality that there remains a lot of work to be done in terms of improving stakeholder relationships. ADR is not a magic bullet, and it cannot resolve all of the issues that cause disruption to the roll out of telecoms infrastructure. But we at RICS are confident that the Telecoms ADR Service can be a credible and effective means to support collaboration and inclusive dialogue, and using it will help stakeholders in the telecoms industry to resolve conflict where it arises. This in turn will lead to better telecoms infrastructure and a better future for us all.

Martin Burns

Head of ADR Research and Development, RICS

October 2022

For more information about the RICS Telecoms ADR Service, and how to use it, visit RICS ADR framework for telecoms disputes.

To find out more about the RICS Telecoms ADR Service, book your place at the upcoming RICS UK Telecoms Conference 2022.