Broadband coverage

BDUK vouchers and 5G testbeds updates

BDUK pilots a new consumer-led approach for Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme 

BDUK has announced a new website to enable a consumer-led approach to make it clearer to residents and small businesses how they can access the Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. Currently, the Scheme is supplier-led. This means suppliers request the voucher on behalf of their customers. The value of the voucher contributes to the build cost of installing a gigabit-capable connection at the customer’s premises.

Gigabit broadband vouchers are a one-off contribution to homes and small to medium-sized businesses that want to install a faster, more reliable connection over gigabit-capable infrastructure in group projects. Organised by Building Digital UK (BDUK) and funded by DCMS, the programme is tasked with delivering broadband networks to the nation.

The website now enables individuals or communities to register their interest in getting a voucher, makes this visible for suppliers and enables them to express interest in providing a service. Programme Director Justin Leese stated that: “So, whilst remaining supplier agnostic we essentially walk the customers up one side of the hill, the suppliers up the other side and let them make their own introductions at the top!” via LinkedIn. The Broadband Upgrade Fund is a pilot campaign available to rural premises in Cornwall, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Cumbria and Northumberland.  (more…)

Ofcom Connected Nations Update

Ofcom’s Spring 2020 update is an interim report based on coverage and service availability information received from providers since the last Connected Nations report published in December.

On fixed broadband:

  • Full Fibre broadband availability in the UK continues to rapidly improve with over 3.5 million homes (12%) now able to access faster, more reliable full fibre services. This is an increase of over half a million in the four months to January 2020. This is a result of increased rollout from existing broadband networks and new entrants.
  • Ultrafast broadband has increased across the UK by over 700,000 properties to over 16 million homes (55%).
  • Superfast broadband continues to be rolled out across the UK, with an additional 300,000 properties, meaning over 27 million homes (95%) can now access it.
  • Decent broadband can be accessed by the vast majority of UK properties. The number of residential and commercial properties that are not able to receive a decent broadband service from a fixed line stands at 608,000 (2%). These properties may be eligible for the broadband universal service which came into place in March and gives properties unable to get a decent connection the legal right to request one.

On mobile:

  • Two-thirds of the UK landmass has good 4G coverage from all four networks which includes 97% of the premises in the UK.
  • Just under 80% of the UK landmass is covered by all operators for calls and text services which includes 99% of premises in the UK.

The interactive report can be found here.

Ofcom’s proposals for stimulating greater investment in fibre broadband

Ofcom has published its first combined five-year review of Wholesale Fixed Telecoms regulation which maps out how it will regulate Openreach between April 2021 and March 2026 for both the residential and businesses connectivity markets (previously the regulator separately assessed the Wholesale Local Access Market Review of residential, and the Business Connectivity Market Review).

Ofcom’s four-point plan aims to support competitive investment in fibre networks and competition in gigabit capable services, ensuring world class broadband services are available to as many people and businesses as possible.

  1. Improving the business case for fibre investment. In more urban areas, Ofcom proposes that the wholesale price that Openreach charges retail providers for its entry-level (40 Mbit/s) superfast broadband service is capped to inflation. This follows a cut Ofcom made to this product in its 2018 review. Ofcom also proposes that Openreach can charge a small premium for regulated products if they are delivered over full fibre. Openreach’s fastest fibre services will remain free from pricing regulation to support the investment competition between network builders.
  2. Protecting customers and driving competition. Ofcom will ensure that people can still access affordable broadband by capping Openreach’s wholesale charges on its slower copper broadband services. Openreach will be restricted from being able to offer discounts that could stifle investment by its rivals.
  3. Taking rural areas into the fast lane. In rural areas where there is no prospect of multiple networks being built, Ofcom will support investment by Openreach which is the only operator with a large-scale rural network, by allowing it to recover investment costs across the wholesale prices of a wider range of services, reducing the risk of its investment. If BT provides a firm commitment to build fibre in these parts of the country, Ofcom will include these costs in its prices upfront. If not, Ofcom will only allow it to recover these costs after it lays new fibre. The UK Government is planning to invest £5bn to reach the most challenging 20% of the UK and is working closely with Ofcom on its plans for this.
  4. Closing the copper network. Ofcom plans to remove regulation on Openreach’s copper products in areas where full fibre is built to support the migration/switching of customers to the new fibre network. Ofcom will be transferring its regulation – including price protections – from copper to new fibre services.

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Ofcom’s proposed work plan for 2020-2021

Ofcom has set out its proposed workplan for the next financial year. The consultation closes on 25th February 2020.

Strategic priorities:

  • Better broadband and mobile – support ongoing investment in faster broadband and better mobile coverage across the country.
  • Fairness for customers – ensure broadband, phone and TV customers, particularly vulnerable people, are treated fairly.
  • Support UK broadcasting – support the sector (including public service broadcasting) in delivering continued benefits to all UK audiences.
  • Online communications – in conjunction with Government, protect consumers from harmful content online and ensure communications services online work for consumers.
  • Enable strong, secure networks – build a centre of excellence for security and resilience, work with industry to protect networks against outages and cyber-attacks, lead on initiatives to close gaps in best practice.

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Ofcom: Connected Nations 2019 Report

Ofcom’s 2019 Connected Nations report, released today, sets out this year’s developments in broadband and mobile services, availability and coverage.

Leading the data is the nearly three million UK homes that can now access full-fibre broadband – 10% of all homes – and 1.5 million more than last year.

Overall superfast broadband coverage is now around 95%, which means that the vast majority of homes can access download speeds of at least 30 Mbit/s. Take-up of superfast packages has increased by 20% in twelve months, but Ofcom suggests millions more could get faster internet by upgrading. (more…)

Ofcom consultation on proposed changes to quality of service regulation on Openreach

Ofcom is seeking comments on its proposed changes to certain regulations that require Openreach to install broadband connections within a set period of time. Openreach has developed a ‘Bulk Grouping provision capability’ in coordination with its wholesale customers that will allow providers to upgrade their standard broadband customers to superfast and ultrafast products in batches. (more…)

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 finalizes universal service broadband plans

As of March 2020 homes and businesses will have the right to request a decent broadband service to their property (decent being defined as a connection offering speeds of at least 10Mbit/s download and 1Mbit/s upload). Ofcom has now announced that it will be BT and KCOM who will be designated as the universal service providers for that broadband connection.

Currently there are 620,000 homes and offices struggling to get a decent broadband service who would currently be in scope of this project.

From March 20th, those eligible will be able to start making requests for a connection to either BT (UK excluding Hull) and KCOM (Hull area). The providers, once eligibility is confirmed (which will include determining whether the property is due to be connected under another publicly-funded scheme within 12 months), must establish a connection as quickly as possible and cover the initial cost up to £3,400. Costs above this threshold must be paid for by the customer.

Ultrafast broadband reaches more of the UK

The recent update to Ofcom’s Connected Nations report – which provides information on coverage and service availability for both internet and mobile phones – reveals that ultrafast broadband speeds (defined as download speeds over 300Mbit/s) are now available to properties in just over half the country. Superfast speeds of at least 30Mbit/s have reached 95% of UK premises and full-fibre broadband has risen a percentage point to 7% coverage, or 300,000 additions in the four months since the last report.

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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.

Government sets out Strategic Communications Priorities

The Government is looking for opinions on its draft Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) for telecommunications, radio spectrum and post – the first if its kind following its new power granted by the Digital Economy Act 2017. Once the SSP is formally designated, telecoms will be brought more into line with the other utility sectors, and Ofcom obliged to have regard to the Statement. (more…)

Network deployment speeds ahead whilst adoption lags

Ofcom yesterday published their annual Connected Nations Report which tracks the progress on deployment and take-up of digital infrastructure and the services provided over them.

The headline stats are that superfast (30Mbit/s) fixed connectivity is up 3 points to 94% of homes and businesses from last year, with 4G coverage from at least one operator up to 91% of the UK’s landmass. This is steady rather than spectacular progress, as you would expect at this stage of the network deployments. Full Fibre connections, a key focus for Government policy following the FTIR, now stands at 6% of premises.

Around 2% of UK premises still cannot currently access broadband services offering a 10 Mbit/s download – the threshold below which the Universal Service Obligation (USO) would kick in. This has halved in the last year and Ofcom will be hoping to see continued progress in 2019 in order to reduce the target area for the broadband USO which will come into effect next year. (more…)

Broadband universal service providers named by Ofcom

Ofcom has set out its thinking for which providers should be delivering the Government’s Universal Service Order to allow for decent broadband connections across the UK. This consultation follows on from a summer request for interested providers to put themselves forward. As a result, Ofcom proposes to designate BT as the Universal Service Provider for the whole of the UK bar Hull which will be served by KCOM.
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