Under the radar
MIMP's dispute with the South Australian government is now over a year old and shows no obvious sign of resolution.
Aitchison believes MIMP is a "test case" for charging high rents to equipment co-hosts in the state, and alleges that other telcos with equipment co-located on government infrastructure on Crown land aren't being pursued for similar fees.
A DEWNR spokesperson told iTnews that it has forged "about 120 license agreements" in the state — "80 percent of which are with tower owners and 20 percent with co-users."
"All companies that we are aware of who co-host are licensed and charged a standard fee in line with our policy," the spokesperson said.
"It is an obligation under a lead licence for the owner [of the tower] to direct those potential co-hosts to DEWNR to apply for a license to access and occupy."
Aitchison, however, alleges that co-hosts fly under the radar of the Department and its land access rents.
"I could put a dish on a tower and not tell DENWR and how would they know?" he said. "That's what is happening in South Australia right now."
New models of engagement
Aitchison wants South Australia's land management agencies to ditch the model of separately charging land access fees to the tower owner and each co-host on the tower.
He wants agencies to simply charge the tower owner a fee, and let them pass on the costs.
The model is known as a head license arrangement, but it does not have widespread support.
In NSW, IPART is touting a similar scheme to have land management agencies only charge rent to the tower owner — leaving the owner to recoup costs from co-hosts, just as Aitchison proposes.
If approved, it would only apply to "high value" tower sites on Crown land, and agencies could resort to the old method of just charging everyone rent, not just the tower owner, if they chose.
Telstra's Joice believes the model won't float, not least because the tower owner doesn't want the responsibility, nor the increase in rent to cover other users of the tower infrastructure.
"Without knowledge of the number of co-users at a site, no primary user [tower owner] would agree to a head license and an inflated rent," he said.
"Further, there is no guarantee that co-users would agree to having the license costs passed down, and if they did not, the primary user would be left paying an excessive rental amount with no means of recovery".
In MIMP's case, DEWNR sees no pressure to evaluate such a charging model.
"DEWNR charges a licence fee for access and authority to occupy Crown land for communications purposes," its spokesperson said.
"If the primary licensee or tower owner also charges the co-user a fee, this has nothing to do with the agreement with DEWNR."
Telstra bunkers down
Telstra is due back in court on September 10 for an interlocutory hearing before Justice Darryl Rangiah.
The hearing is understood to relate to demands for payment of rental fees while the case is in train.
"The State of Queensland has issued an interlocutory application seeking declaration that the current prescribed rent be paid pending determination of the proceeding, which has not yet been heard by the Court," a Telstra spokesman told iTnews.
All carriers are likely to be watching the Federal Court in Queensland for clarity on land access rents.
"Telstra is the only carrier party to the litigation, although it is anticipated that the outcome may affect other carriers," the spokesman said.