OpenNet in row with home owner over junction box location

Close-up of an OpenNet installation. OpenNet is embroiled in a disagreement over the location of a junction box in a condominium in Tanah Merah. What it thought was the common property of the estate turned out to be the private property of
Close-up of an OpenNet installation. OpenNet is embroiled in a disagreement over the location of a junction box in a condominium in Tanah Merah. What it thought was the common property of the estate turned out to be the private property of a resident. -- ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

Dispute centres on placing of shared equipment at owner's car porch

OpenNet is embroiled in a disagreement over the location of a junction box in a condominium in Tanah Merah. What it thought was the common property of the estate turned out to be the private property of a resident.

The dispute started in September last year when a worker from an Internet service provider noticed that OpenNet's junction box was in Mr Mah Chor Meng's condominium unit in Tanah Merah. The box was mounted on a wall of the private car porch.

The general manager of a global technology and finance firm, 49, was told that the box distributes fibre signals to several homes. It should have been located in the common area of the estate so technicians can easily access it to fix his neighbours' network problems.

What ensued was a string of e-mail exchanges between Mr Mah and OpenNet that soured relationships. Mr Mah took issue with the installation as he was not informed that shared equipment would be installed in his private property. "Do I have to move my car each time OpenNet comes to my porch to service my neighbours' fibre connections? If I had known, I would have objected to the installation," he told The Straits Times.

He made his displeasure known to OpenNet, accusing the latter of trespass. In September last year, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) also confirmed in an e-mail to OpenNet that Mr Mah owns the car porch space.

Replying, OpenNet said it did nothing wrong. It had notified the condominium manager twice in 2010 about fibre broadband rollout to the estate.

In an e-mail reply last October, it wrote: "On both occasions, we did not receive any objections from the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) nor were we notified by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of having received any such written objection... Please note that there is no requirement under section 14 of the TA (Telecommunications Act) that an express consent is required before installation can be carried out."

According to the Act, service providers have to give property owners 14 days notice of any installation, stating as fully as possible the nature and extent of the work. Installations are allowed in the absence of objection. When objections are raised, the IDA said it would step in and may authorise the installation. It may also require the service provider to pay for damages or rent.

An OpenNet spokesman said the current location of the junction box is "not unreasonable" as the development does not have any telecom riser for such shared equipment.

Nonetheless, OpenNet said it had submitted plans to the condominium manager last October to relocate the box. It received approval to do so only last Tuesday.

"We look forward to working with Mr Mah to conclude this," the spokesman said.

The Straits Times understands that there are 10 such junction boxes installed in home owners' car porches in the 174-unit condominium that Mr Mah lives in.

Lawyer Bryan Tan, a partner in Pinsent Masons MPillay, said OpenNet should have contacted home owners for installations in their property as the MCST has jurisdiction only over the common areas. "Home owners have the right to stop someone from installing equipment in their private property. The proper owner in this case can be determined from a land title search with SLA."

But the IDA has a different view. "Though installations may sit within the owner's premises that appear to be common areas, it should be the MCST and the owner's responsibility to advise OpenNet accordingly," its spokesman said.

itham@sph.com.sg

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