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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?

Targets

The NIC called for nationwide full fibre broadband by 2033. This helpfully aligns with what the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, called for in a recent speech, although he had also indicated that he wished for the UK to have hit around 15 million premises by 2025.

It goes without saying that these targets are extremely stretching and equate to around 2 million premises connected each year. This will not be easy but it’s welcome that Government is now setting out a path to deliver on these targets – particularly as we have been without meaningful connectivity targets for 6 months, having largely delivered on superfast targets.

Alignment

There are key areas of alignment worth keeping an eye on. Firstly, there may be greater recognition for wireless infrastructure as we move to a 5G world and start to see Government address mobile with the same urgency and recognition in legislation and policy initiatives as it does fibre. This might not result in immediate change but would be an important step nonetheless.

The second is on current Government initiatives. The targets for full fibre have occurred following the introduction of several Government interventions. Some of these align quite well with the full fibre push – as the name suggests, the Local Full Fibre Networks programme is one. Others, some of which are central Government’s responsibility and some are from the devolved bodies seem to be out of joint.

The NIC interestingly included a line on Government intervention, saying that it should “focus initially on the areas least likely to receive full fibre broadband commercially, and which are also most likely to experience unreliable broadband through long distances of copper cables”. This appears to advocate an ‘outside-in’ approach and appears to contravene the approach outlined under the Universal Service Obligation which is aimed at 10Mbit/s services. How these changes could be delivered is hard to say but expect this issue to continue to be raised if it isn’t addressed in some form.

Maximising Private Sector Investment

It’s unlikely that the economics, in terms of positive business case, for full fibre will differ from superfast/NGA networks. In fact there’s the potential for it to be worse as rival companies invest in digging trenches to lay fibre to the same premise. Again the NIC offers a potential solution; let competition flourish in areas where private investment is viable, deploy an ‘outside in’ approach with Government subsidy and meet in the middle. What this middle ground will constitute is harder to make-out but the report does make reference to a ‘targeted solution’. Certainly this area has the potential for Government to deploy an innovative solution which maximises private sector investment, potentially in return for either regulatory or tax holidays.

Barrier Busting

A central theme of Government’s work has rightly focused on removing regulatory, planning, procedural and pretty much anything that detracts from a positive investment environment. Expect to see more detail and action in the FTIR particularly around access to public buildings and trying to drive greater take-up of standardised wayleave agreements.

Whilst these might be the headlines there’ll also be interest in Ofcom’s role, most notably on 5G coverage obligations but also in helping incentivising more fibre deployment, whether the potential impact of Brexit is incorporated, and the role of technologies outside of 5G and full fibre – from satellite to low power wide area networks.

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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BSG Annual Conference – the Future of Digital Communications – Thursday 2 November 2017 #BSGComms17

The Broadband Stakeholder Group is delighted to invite you to our free Annual Conference on Thursday 2 November 2017.

Kick-starting with a keynote speech from Minister for Digital Matt Hancock, the Conference will focus on the future of digital communications, both in terms of infrastructure deployment and take-up of services.

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The £400 million Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund to boost full-fibre broadband deployment is now formally launched

In November 2016, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the creation of a new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF) of £400 million, matched by private finance to invest in new full fibre networks over the next 4 years. After being announced again in the March 2017 Budget alongside other measures to boost investment in digital infrastructure, the Fund was formally launched yesterday.

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BSG Comment: Government pushes towards a Fibre and 5G Future

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.

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New standardised wayleave should speed up the deployment of superfast broadband in London

The City of London Corporation published this week a standardised wayleave agreement which should accelerate negotiations between landlords and broadband providers when agreeing to install fixed line broadband connections. Waiting time for business tenants to access high-speed internet connections should be significantly shortened.

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BSG supports Connected Britain, London 15 -16 June 2016

The Broadband Stakeholder Group are happy to be supporting Connected Britain 2016, a two-day conference taking place in London on the 15th and 16th of June.

The event will provide a platform for a wide range of stakeholders to discuss the challenges of connectivity and broadband access in the UK in the context of a new political landscape.

Connected Britain 2016 logo

Key topics to be discussed include the legislative support for the roll-out of superfast broadband and mobile networks, the future of mobile coverage, preparing the UK for an ultrafast network, the deployment of 5G, and the social and economic benefits of greater connectivity.

Broadband Stakeholder Group CEO Matthew Evans will speak on the second day, exploring incentives and regulatory framework for the build out of 5G and ultrafast fibre networks.

There are a number of ways to get involved with the day and you can find the full list off speakers and agenda on the official event website here. You can find the event on social media using @ConnBritain and #connectedbritain on Twitter, and going to the Facebook page here.