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NIC reports on the future of infrastructure regulation

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) was asked by Government in October 2018 to review the regulation of the UK’s energy, telecoms and water sectors

In February 2019 a Call for Evidence was published asking for opinions of where economic regulation has failed or succeeded in facilitating future investment needs, promoting competition and innovation and in meeting the needs of both current and future consumers. The study also considered the full range of potential implications of any changes with a focus on affordability and protection of vulnerable customers.

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DCMS seeks views on transposing the European Electronic Communications Code

DCMS is consulting on its approach to implementing the key articles of the European Electronic Communications Code, which updates the regulatory framework governing the telecoms sector across the EU. The consultation document assumes a post-EU Exit implementation period until at least December 31st2020.

The revised Directive coming out of the EU intends to incentivise investment in very high-capacity broadband networks, support 5G rollout by promoting more efficient spectrum management, and protect and engage consumers. Internet phone and messaging services will be brought for the first time into scope of telecoms regulation.

The Government sets out three options for transposition of articles that potentially make substantive changes to access and investment incentives, radio spectrum, consumer protection and universal service obligations. These options include maintain the status quo, transposing the minimum requirements or adopting an alternative approach to transposition.

Throughout the consultation the Government seeks to ensure that the strategic goals set out in its FTIR remain consistent with regulatory changes from the transposition. The closing date is September 10th.

Ofcom publishes its 2019/2020 Work Plan

Ofcom has published its work plan for 2019/2020 laying out its priorities and projects for the coming financial year following consultation with the public and industry. The four main focus areas for Ofcom are:

* Better broadband – this will include the implementation of the broadband Universal Service Obligation and supporting investment in fibre though duct and pole access – and better mobile – through auctioning more spectrum to boost rural reception and preparing for 5G.

* Fairness for customers – to ensure the fairer treatment of customers with fairer and clearer pricing and more transparency around deals availability. Ofcom will also be increasing the budget for its Communications Consumer panel.

* Supporting UK broadcasting – Ofcom will look to support regional TV productions and review the BBC’s news and current affairs programming and commercial activities as well as ensure that public service channels remain easily locatable in the face of technology developments.

* Online harms – reflecting the growing concerns around protecting people online and to ensure that audiences understand better the online world, Ofcom will carry out more work around media literacy and research into specific harms to include awareness raising.

Ofcom has updated its plan following the Government’s publication of its draft Statement of Strategic Priorities covering telecoms, spectrum and the postal service to reflect the priorities that were set by DCMS.

Whilst there are few surprises in the specific projects proposed for the year, with many ongoing and rolling over from last year, the first quarter should see Statements on the Broadband USO, the completion of the assessment for both the Business Connectivity Market Review and the Physical Infrastructure market review with the expected introduction of an unrestricted duct and pole access remedy.

Ofcom also references the work it is undertaking around Brexit and European legislation and how international cooperation with other bodies is expected to continue.

New BSG Report: Preparing for the UK’s all-IP future

  • The UK is moving to an all-IP (internet based) network for voice services
  • The current analogue system, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), will come to the end of its life in the mid-2020s with transition also needed to prepare for our full-fibre future
  • As well as providing voice services, many other applications, such as social care and security alarms, use the PSTN
  • The report provides lessons from four international case studies which are further along their migration path, giving evidence on how the UK can prepare for a successful and seamless migration from the PSTN to all-IP networks.

The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) has published a report on “Preparing the UK for an All-IP future: experiences from other countries”. It outlines the lessons the UK can learn from four international case studies as we migrate from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to all-IP voice services and networks.

The PSTN provides voice and some data services within the UK. It is nearing the end of its life and is increasingly expensive to maintain. A move to all-IP networks lowers costs, brings additional benefits to voice services and helps prepare for the eventual retirement of copper networks – a necessary move as we forge our full-fibre future.

The migration is necessary but raises two particular challenges. The first is the continued provision of voice services, in particular, resilient access to emergency services in the event of a mains power failure which is especially important for the vulnerable and those who are landline-only users. The second is around the data services that use the PSTN. Some of these will not be compatible with an all-IP system as they rely on the analogue capabilities of the old network.

In order to ensure that the UK’s migration is as seamless as possible, the BSG commissioned Plum Consulting to analyse four international case studies. Germany, France, Switzerland and New Zealand were chosen due to the different stages of their migration and their differing regulatory structures.

Guidance on how to communicate and protect vulnerable consumers who may be particularly dependent on voice services is a key feature of the report. As the migration will be led by individual communication providers, it is essential that the industry effectively coordinates its messages to both consumers and providers of services that are dependent or reliant on the PSTN. Other insights focused on the benefits of minimising the forced migration of users away from the PSTN as well as the potential technical challenge posed by the UK’s approach to number portability.

Richard Hooper, chair of the BSG, said: The UK is well placed to manage a successful migration from the PSTN to all-IP networks. Industry is already taking measures such as providing test facilities to companies that provide data services. However, this report makes clear that we need to continue to strengthen this work to avoid the pitfalls other countries have made and protect vulnerable consumers. It is particularly urgent that industry works together with Ofcom and ensures that the messaging to consumers from communication providers is consistent.”

Read the full report here.

A long read – Forging our Full-Fibre and 5G Future

The Government has announced the conclusion of its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review. The Review which was announced in the Industrial Strategy sets out the targets and overall policy framework for the sector for the next 15 years.

The headlines are a confirmation of the Government’s targets for full fibre coverage to reach 15 million premises by 2025 and full coverage by 2033, with 5G coverage by 2027. The targets and accompanying policy shifts – in particular the change in competition models – mark a significant evolution in the Government’s approach.

Commenting on the publication of the report the BSG’s Chair, Richard Hooper CBE, commented The BSG welcomes the Government’s publication of its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review and is pleased to be playing a useful role in barrier-busting in implementing fixed and mobile networks, and in PSTN switch-off which is the important precursor to fibre switchover.”

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What would a National Broadband Plan look like?

The UK telecoms industry is awaiting Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review which we expect to see over the next few weeks. Whilst it is still unclear what the precise measures will contain the recently published National Needs Assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission offer a few clues.

Their headline recommendation was to call for a National Broadband Plan. So what might such a plan look like and what would it mean for Government policy in telecoms?

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LFFN Projects funding awards announced

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the Spring Statement the areas that will be receiving funding from the £190 million Local Full Fibre Network allocated by the Government in 2017’s Autumn Budget. The second, substantive, wave of funding was awarded to 13 areas across the UK. Successfully bidding for the £95 million were Armagh City, Belfast, Blackpool, Cambridgeshire, Cardiff, Coventry, The Highlands, London, Manchester, Mid Sussex, North Yorkshire, Portsmouth, and Wolverhampton. (more…)

BDUK gets superfast broadband to 4.77 million

Figures published today by DCMS showed that BDUK-supported projects have seen 4,772,207 premises with a superfast broadband service available to them by the end of December 2017. The £1.7 billion Government program, BDUK, has provided funding where superfast broadband would be otherwise commercially unviable, enabling the Government to deliver on its manifesto commitment that 95% of the UK would have access to superfast speeds by the end of last year.

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Ofcom’s 2017 Connected Nations Report

The 2017 Ofcom Connected Nations Report, published December 15th, once again sets out the year’s main developments for both fixed and mobile networks’ performance as well as coverage.

Ofcom headlines the fact that 1.1 m UK homes and business (4% of properties) cannot get decent broadband – defined as having a download speed of 10Mbps. To address this, the government today announced that it will be mandating a regulatory Universal Service Obligation to make high speed broadband a legal right by 2020. (more…)

Is there a bigger role for satellite in the UK broadband market?

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).

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Silver linings in failure: Benefits of the MIP

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.

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