The DCMS call for evidence for the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review signalled the opening of the conversation around what – if any – policy interventions could benefit long-term investment in the infrastructure required for the next generation of digital technologies.
Satellite broadband hasn’t really taken off in the UK in the way that we might have expected it would 10-15 years ago. There are many reasons for this, both technical (latency issues affecting video calling and gaming applications and the potential for weather related outages) and economic (expensive terminal equipment and relatively high ongoing data costs).
I’ve written before about why the Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) failed to live up to its expectations. In summary, building infrastructure is hard in any case and it’s even harder when neither the problem you want to solve nor solution are agreed upon by the parties involved. Last week though the Government published the Mobile Infrastructure Project: Impact and Benefits Report so it’s only fair to pay attention to the benefits that it delivered too.
This weekend saw two big developments in the bid to create a Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) with the Government launching its consultation on the design of a USO and BT making a voluntary offer to deliver this service.
With the General elections taking place in three weeks, the main national political parties’ manifestos have now finally been published. As you would expect some areas are not overly detailed but all include a digital agenda with targets on broadband coverage, speed and references to investment in infrastructure.
The European Commission published last week its annual Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), ranking EU countries according to their performance in areas such as connectivity, digital skills, use of the internet by citizens, the digitisation of businesses, and digital public services. The UK moved from 6th place to 7th this year behind Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Although the UK progressed well in terms of coverage and take-up of superfast broadband connections, other countries have moved faster, encouraging their citizens and businesses to use internet services made available to them.
Just before Christmas, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) published Connected Future, looking at what the UK needs to do to become a ‘world leader in 5G deployment’.
The media reporting focussed on the revelations that the UK’s 4G coverage is worse than that of Albania and Peru (a claim since questioned by Ofcom) and hailed 5G as the opportunity to put things right.
Ofcom today published their technical advice to Government on the design of a broadband Universal Service Obligation. Ofcom were instructed to deliver its “views, evidence-based analysis and…recommendations” by John Whittingdale, then Secretary of State for DCMS, in March 2016. It has certainly delivered on the first two although in making clear that designing a USO is complex, it only offers a few recommendations. It will now be up to Government to make some of the thornier policy choices.
The National Infrastructure Commission today reported back to Government on how to ensure that the UK can become a leader in the deployment of 5G and take early advantage of the applications that it may enable.
The core finding of the NIC is that mobile connectivity is essential and that the market, as currently structured, will struggle to meet these two objectives on its own and that the whole of Government must work with industry to deliver on them.
The Government has briefed that it will be unveiling two new programmes in tomorrow’s Autumn Statement to make good on its view that the future is fibre (to the premise variety) and 5G. The BSG welcomes this focus on digital connectivity. All BSG members believe that good quality broadband underpins, drives and improves our society and economy.
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) announced last week a fourfold rise in business rates (taxes on the value of real estates) on some major infrastructure providers’ bills. The revaluation was judged “excessive” by BT, whose Bill increases from £165m to £743m per annum, who added that the increase in rates will likely lead to higher prices for consumers and businesses. Virgin Media echoed BT’s concerns on the likely negative impact of the increase on future investment decision in telecoms infrastructure.