Government

Carter’s Universal Broadband Commitment

At an event yesterday Communications Minister Stephen Carter discussed the idea of a universal broadband commitment of a 2Mbps service to be available to every household that wants it, by 2012. The commitment could be included in the interim Digital Britain Report, expected to be published at the end of January.

The proposal would see a reform of the existing universal service obligation on BT, and would make use of wireless networks as well as fixed to deliver the service. The idea follows similar recent developments in other markets such as France, Ireland and Finland.

Whilst this is clearly a significant development, many will ask what it means for next generation broadband deployment in the UK? In November last year BSG Chairman Kip Meek outlined the idea of a universal service commitment for broadband in his speech to the BSG Reception. Meek’s idea sought to bring together policy in current and next generation broadband – a universal service for current broadband while encouraging investment in next generation broadband.

If the aims of the digital Britain initiative are to deliver economic as well as social benefits then a coherent approach will be required that addresses both objectives. While Carter referenced the importance of enabling investment in next generation services, it remains unclear, what, if anything, the DBR interim report will say on the matter.

Peter Shearman, Policy Manger, BSG

Government to undertake Digital Britain Report

On Friday last week the government announced it would be undertaking a Digital Britain Report, led by the new minister for technology, communications and broadcasting Stephen Carter. This represents an opportunity for Government to tackle a range of issues in a coordinated, strategic way. Hopwever, doing so requires that the report is not a stock-taking exercise of ongoing issues, but a proactive plan of action that provides strong government direction.

The value of this report would be in bringing together the various activities going on in the area of convergence, across different departments, in a coordinated, strategic way. In doing so, government can provide a strong direction, with the ultimate aim of ensuring that the UK’s digital infrastructure (and the surrounding policy and regulatory frameworks) is fit for a world-leading knowledge economy.

Commenting on the report, Peter Mandelson stated that ‘the digital economy will be central’ to Britain getting through the worst of the current crisis and preparing for the upturn; with this focus the report could be a valuable contribution to the health of the sector and the economic activity that it supports.

Looking at the issues identified for the report, there are already numerous initiatives either completed or underway that are tackling these. Indeed, one key issue for government is how this report interacts with these ongoing activities such as the Convergence Think Tank or the implementation of the Audio Visual Media Services Directive. A report that simply reviews these various policy debates will be of limited value.

The opportunity here is to bring together a range of ongoing issues that all relate to convergence but often sit across a number of government departments and lack an overall coordination. Addressing these at a strategic level, with government providing strong direction and leadership would be of benefit to the development of the converging industries.

It is rare that a new minister already has a command of their brief upon entering a new role, but in Stephen Carter this is exactly what has happened. With his knowledge and experience he should be able to hit the ground running, and use the Digital Britain report to drive government action, rather than simply set the scene for further reviews.

Peter Shearman, Policy Manager, BSG

Digital Britain Report must ask hard questions

Digital Britain Report must ask hard questions says Broadband Stakeholder Group

The communications sector is absolutely vital to the UK’s future as a competitive knowledge economy. At a time of unprecedented change and disruption we have to face up to some fundamental questions and challenges about broadcasting, broadband, our creative industries and the impact of the internet.

We cannot be complacent about past successes. The communications sector is being re-shaped by convergence and we must re-shape the policy and regulatory framework to go with it. The next couple of years will determine whether the UK remains a world leader or becomes a quiet backwater. If our ambition is to lead, then hard questions must be asked in the course of preparing this report.

BSG response to Digital Britain report – full press release

BERR-DCMS Digital Britain report – full press release

A busy month for next generation broadband

September has been a busy month in the world of next generation broadband. Government reviews, UK and EU regulatory consultations, not to mention our report on the cost of fibre-based next generation broadband, have certainly moved the debate on in the UK.

The month started with the BSG publishing its report ‘The costs of deploying fibre-based next generation broadband‘. This report used geographic and cost data specific to the UK, allowing us to model the cost of deployment across a variety of geotypes. The long and the short of this is that the report suggests that fibre to the cabinet will cost up to £5.1bn, and fibre to the home up to £28.8bn.

The total costs are interesting, but the purpose of the report was to breakdown the various cost components, to examine where the real costs lie. Unsurprisingly, this was in the civil infrastructure elements of the network – 42% of total costs for FTTC, and up to 80% of total costs for FTTH. Any steps that could be taken to reduce these costs would obviously help reduce this barrier to investment, and the report modelled how various actions, such as if higher duct re-use was possible, would impact the overall costs.

The report also clearly set out that there is a definite difference in the cost of deployment between urban, rural and remote areas of the UK. For fibre to the cabinet, for example, the cheapest 58% of households would cost £1.9bn to deploy to; the next 26% would cost £1.4bn, and the most expensive 16% would cost a further £1.8bn. Clearly, deploying beyond the first 60% of UK households will be a more challenging case for investors to make, which has a number of implications for government and the regulator.

This was closely followed by the launch of the final report of the Caio Review – ‘The Next Phase of Broadband UK: Action now for long term competitiveness‘. The Review suggested that, while we shouldn’t be panicking about a lack of NGA in the UK, the government could take actions to reduce the barriers to investment, and set out the need for leadership from the government and the regulator. A range of initiatives were recommended, including providing certainty for investors and reducing the costs of deployment, while increasing the competitive pressure on copper-based services, and benchmarking our performance against other countries while considering the ‘batstop’ remedies should the market fail to deliver NGA.

We welcomed these recommendations at the time, and look forward to hearing the government’s response to the Review. Certainly, our reports over the last 18 months have supported the conclusions and recommendations of the Review.

What followed was then followed by a flurry of regulatory activity. First, the European Commission set out its long-awaited draft Recommendation on the regulation of NGA. The Recommendation sets out how the Commission would like regulation to support investment and competition in next generation broadband, and makes for interesting reading for Ofcom and the operators, who will no doubt be submitting their views to the Commission before the 14 November deadline.

This was swiftly followed by Ofcom themselves publishing their latest consultation on the regulatory environment for NGA, ‘Delivering superfast broadband in the UK‘. The consultation discusses a range of issues and, although differing in depth of detail across the issues, certainly moves the debate on from its previous consultation last September. Positioning itself as a ‘framework for action’, the regulator will further progress these issues through a range of activities with stakeholders.

And, just to add to the fun, the Commission has also now begun its second periodic review of the Universal Service Directive, as well as launching an EU-wide broadband performance index.

Quite a lot to absorb for those of us who spend their days working on next generation broadband. So where has it left us? Well, the Caio Review has set out a number of options for government if it is serious about trying to reduce the costs of deployment. The government response will be interesting, and whether they are actually able to implement some of the suggested changes (such as to the way fibre is treated in the rating system) is up for debate. Caio’s recommendation that government and the regulator take a strong lead on NGA is one that we support, and are keen to see.

Our report has added further to the evidence base for policy making that we are committed to creating, to ensure appropriate policy is developed. It adds numbers to views that were likely already held, but also raises interesting questions, and the granularity of our figures should be of real use to those interested in local or regional broadband projects.

The Commission’s Recommendation, and Ofcom’s consultation, take us closer towards regulatory certainty than we were before, although a number of questions remain unanswered and this is unlikely to be the end of Ofcom’s process for creating the right regulatory framework. Certainly there could be a sense that every time you delve deeper into an issue, the list of questions a regulator needs to answer gets longer.

One issue worth noting is the change of view towards public sector projects. Sympathies certainly appear to have shifted within Ofcom, and possibly within BERR given the Review’s recommendations, since the DTI/Ofcom Best Practice Guide for Public Broadband Schemes was put out in 2007, and this is a welcome development.

This is one of many issues raised this month, however, and stakeholders will be watching with interest to see how these are played out in the coming months.

BSG comments on Caio Review

The Caio Report on Next Generation Broadband is a key step towards UK consumers getting superfast broadband, according to the Broadband Stakeholder Group, the government’s advisory body on broadband.

Kip Meek, Chairman of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, says, “Importantly, this report states that although there is no government money on the table, there is a key leadership role for both government and Ofcom, and that everyone involved in the provision of broadband must work more closely together if we are to address the challenges of deployment of next generation, super-fast, broadband in the UK.”

BSG believes that the report is important for three reasons:

  • Firstly it is saying that government needs to come off the fence and recognise that next generation broadband will be of fundamental importance to the UK economy

BSG agrees and believes that government and Ofcom together must show leadership in creating the right environment for investment to take place.

  • Secondly, it is saying that we shouldn’t expect a single entity to deploy a single fibre network universally across the UK. Instead we are likely to see different networks, being deployed in different areas, by different organisations using a mix of fibre and wireless technologies.

This is borne out by the BSG’s recent cost modelling work which concluded that universal Fibre to the Home (FTTH) would cost £28.8bn

  • Thirdly while it rejects the need for blanket subsidies, it is saying that local innovative projects, involving the public and private sector and local communities should be encouraged and supported both as a stimulus to competition and as a way of extending coverage into more rural areas.

BSG research earlier this year demonstrated that if built on international best practice, such projects can be both efficient and effective. But coordination is required at national level.

The BSG is committed to assisting government and the regulator in implementing the recommendations from the Caio Review.

Caio Review final report

BSG response to Caio Review – full press release

Caio Reveiw – Full BERR press release

BERR launches consultation on illegal file-sharing

BERR today launched a consultation on approaches for tackling illegal file-sharing.

The consultation is seeking views on the proposed co-regulatory approach put forward by BERR for working with industry and the regulator to address the issue of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing.

Alongside the consultation, a memorandum of understanding has been signed by the major ISPs and representatives of the content industry that sets out an objective to achieve ‘a significant reduction in the incidence of copyright infringement as a result of peer to peer file-sharing’ within the next two to three years.

This will begin with a three month trial where ISPs will notify 1,000 subscribers per week, who have been identified as being engaged in illegal file sharing, that their account is being used for illegal activity. The results from this trial will be assessed by the signatories before deciding on further action.

These developments come five months on from the government’s announcement, when it launched the ‘Creative Britain’ strategy paper, that it would consult in 2008 on legislation requiring rights holders and ISPs to work together to address illegal file-sharing.

At that time, government set a deadline of Spring 2009 for this issue to be addressed before legislation would be introduced, and today’s announcement is a significant step to finding a solution agreeable to ISPs, the content industries and government within that timescale.

BERR consultation on illicit P2P file-sharing