The new Digital Markets Unit

In November 2020 the government announced the establishment of a regulatory watchdog to enforce a new pro-competition regime covering platforms with considerable market power. The new Digital Markets Unit (DMU) has now been set up within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The new regulatory regime will require legislation to grant it full powers, and the government is expected to consult on proposals this year. In the meantime, it will sit within the CMA on a non-statutory basis. The recently published Terms of Reference set out the role. In the immediate term the focus of the DMU will be on the following: (more…)

Prime Minister and Digital Secretary praise broadband companies

The Prime Minister and Digital Secretary met with the CEOs of the major broadband organisations today and praised the industry for creating more than 22,000 jobs over the last year. They welcomed the commitment from the organisations to help the nation build back better from the pandemic with gigabit broadband rollout, and underlined the government’s support to help industry’s efforts to connect as many homes and businesses as possible by 2025. The government has increased its forecast and new figures show rollout will reach 60 per cent by the end of 2021 (up from 50 per cent), putting the UK on track to be among the fastest build rates in Europe. (more…)

Government’s Plan for Growth

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng today published a joint open letter to businesses on the Government’s Plan for Growth.

The Plan for Growth builds on the best of the Industrial Strategy from 2017 and supports the transition to net zero by 2050. It sets out the government’s path to invest in three pillars – infrastructure, skills, and innovation. The focus is creating and supporting jobs, helping to drive growth, and seizing opportunities from Britain’s independence. The Build Back Better Business Council has been convened to draw on the expertise of industry and government to ensure that the plan for growth is delivered successfully and in partnership with business. Today’s meeting will look at the innovation pillar and will discuss the government’s upcoming Innovation Strategy, due to be published in the Summer. (more…)

Project Gigabit (Phase 1b): Open Market Review request for information

The Building Digital UK (BDUK) team has launched an Open Market Review (OMR) request for information (RFI) to help identify areas needing government intervention. This follows an earlier OMR and RFI for Cumbria. Early market research is an essential part of the team’s engagement with industry to shape public investment. The results of this OMR will provide a better understanding of the broadband infrastructure already in place, and where there are plans for investment over the next three years. The RFI will enable BDUK to make a significant step in the design of the areas to be targeted by the new procurements and contracts. (more…)

Gigabit plans for Scotland

Under Project Gigabit which was announced today, the UK government has pledged a further £2 million to extend investment to NHS Scotland sites in isolated areas of the country.

91 GP surgeries and community hospitals in rural parts of Scotland – including remote island services on Arran, Jura, Lewis, Mull, Shetland and Orkney – will benefit from gigabit broadband upgrades. A further £1 million has also been pledged to extend full fibre to even more schools, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries across the Highlands. Public buildings will have faster internet speeds from a £7.3 million total investment through the government’s Local Full Fibre Networks scheme. In the northern isles of Yell and Unst in Shetland, work as part of a £2 million project to connect 21 schools, council buildings and other public sites to fibre broadband has now been completed. Up to 37 sites are expected to receive connections in March with all due to completed by March 2022.  (more…)

Government launches ‘Project Gigabit’ 

The government has announced ‘Project Gigabit’, its mission to deliver gigabit-capable broadband across the UK. The project will be a series of phases, with the first phase providing one million hard-to-reach buildings with gigabit coverage and new funding for gigabit vouchers. An extra £210 million worth of vouchers will be released to help those with slow speeds, and another £110 million will connect up to 7,000 rural GP surgeries, libraries and schools. Up to 510,000 homes and businesses in Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Tees Valley will be the first to benefit as part of the project, with contracts for these first areas going to tender in the spring. (more…)

Shared Rural Network (SRN) – transparency commitment publication

The government has published a transparency notice which provides information on how the Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme meets the subsidy principles set out in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

The government announced in March last year that it had agreed a £1 billion deal with EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to deliver the SRN. The network will be underpinned by spectrum licence coverage commitments on individual mobile networks to deliver 95% geographic coverage. The programme is made up of private and publicly funded elements: (more…)

Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum publishes its 2021/22 work plan

In July 2020 the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) was set up to regulate digital platforms, bringing together the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA),  Ofcom, and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The DRCF has published its 2021/22 Work Plan setting out a roadmap for how all three regulators will increase the scope and scale of their co-operation, with a focus on three priority areas: (more…)

Further support for phone and broadband customers during the pandemic

Customers struggling to pay their phone or broadband bill during the Covid-19 pandemic are being asked to contact their provider to see how they can help. As we see a cautious and very gradual lifting of lockdown measures and extended furlough, people are more dependant than ever on their telecoms service. As we have reported many times, industry initiatives are already in place. Ofcom recently wrote to providers asking them to revisit the support they have available and calling for further measures in line with the vulnerability guide.

Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill passes through Parliament

The Telecoms Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill has successfully passed through parliament and is set to become law.

As a reminder, the Bill was introduced in late 2019 with the aim of allowing fixed broadband providers to gain access to multiple dwelling buildings (blocks of residential flats and apartments) in order to deploy, upgrade or maintain fixed-line broadband connections where a landlord has repeatedly failed to respond. The forthcoming law will place an obligation on landlords, via the Electronic Communications Code, to facilitate the deployment of digital infrastructure and enable providers to use magistrates courts to gain entry to properties.

In parallel, the consultation on further potential changes to the Electronic Communications Code is is underway on whether to make further changes to help improve the process between landowners and providers.


The Chancellor’s Budget and The Mayor’s London Plan

The Budget announcement included the confirmation of the new UK Infrastructure Bank to be based in Leeds and supported by an initial £12bn of capital investment, the new Help to Grow scheme and the new super-deduction.

What we know about the Infrastructure Bank is that it will provide financing support across the UK, offering a range of financing tools including debt, hybrid products, equity and guarantees to support private infrastructure projects. It will begin operating in spring 2021. The Help to Grow scheme will offer up to 130,000 companies across the UK a digital and management boost and will rely on access to digital infrastructure, and a new 130% first-year capital allowance for qualifying plant and machinery assets (super-deduction) with a 50% first-year allowance for qualifying special rate assets. This is expected to cut companies’ tax bill by 25p for every £1 they invest in new equipment. (more…)

Central Scotland to benefit from UK government’s gigabit programme

The government has announced that £4.5 million of the UK government’s nationwide gigabit programme will be spent on more than 5,300 homes and businesses in Ayrshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Stirlingshire, Greater Glasgow and Lothian. The premises were due to benefit from superfast broadband through the Scottish Government’s Reach 100 (R100) programme. However, on the basis that the UK Gigabit Programme would have to revisit the premises at some point in the future to convert them to FTTP, it made more sense to go directly to gigabit capability thereby reducing costs. (more…)

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee publishes its report on 5G market diversification

The House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s Second Report 5G market diversification and wider lessons for critical and emerging technologies highlights the dependency of the UK’s 5G rollout on just two vendors, posing risks to network resilience and security.

Drawing on evidence taken throughout the course of the inquiry, the report warns against repeating mistakes as new and important technologies evolve. MPs have called on the government to publish a white paper within 12 months with an action plan. The paper should assess the risks of global technological divergence of standards, identify critical emerging technologies, risks of dependency on high-risk vendors, and set out the government’s proposed response. The report sets out a series of recommendations for the current telecommunications rollout, recently addressed in the government’s 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy. (more…)