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Benefits of high speed internet: BDUK case study research

DCMS has published a BDUK paper on the benefits of gigabit-capable connectivity made possible through the DCMS Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme which ran from March 2018 to May 2020.

High level findings:

  • Gigabit voucher recipients are generally positive about their fibre connection.
  • Residents reported mixed experiences; for some the connection does not make a huge difference while for others it provides confidence in considering future plans. Residents in rural areas reported lower level use, for example daily communications, online finance and entertainment.
  • SMEs are using connections at low levels for general admin in care homes, online retail, event management and outdoor cinema events. SMEs reported higher level use and include industries such as gaming, TV and film, and digital content.

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Cross sector comparisons

The UK Regulators Network (UKRN), regulators in telecoms, water, energy and banking have partnered to compare how customers rate the biggest companies who provide services people rely on every day. The level of customer satisfaction in telecoms varies between 79% to 96%. The scorecards also capture some metrics on perceptions of value for money. Between 82% and 97% of customers in telecoms are satisfied with the value for money they receive from their supplier. Complaints across mobile, landline and broadband complaints are below 1%. (more…)

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: 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: Fair treatment and easier switching for broadband and mobile customers

Proposals to implement the new European Electronic Communications Code 

Ofcom has published a consultation on a range of measures protect broadband, mobile, pay TV and landline phone customers and help ensure they get a fair deal. The proposals respond to changes to the European regulatory framework. The Government consulted earlier this year on how to reflect these changes in UK law. Responses are due by 3 March 2020. Ofcom plans to publish a statement in Q1 2020/21.

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Connectivity

Consultation: Measures to Support Openreach Trials

As part of Openreach’s plan to support the migration of telephone services onto IP technology – the move to All-IP – as well as upgrade its access network to full-fibre, the organization has applied to Ofcom for several rule waivers. Ofcom has opened a consultation that will run until 06 January 2020.

The plan is to carry out two trials. In Salisbury, Openreach will test the processes for migrating customers to full-fibre services and, ultimately, withdrawing legacy copper-based services. The Mildenhall trial will test the procedure for withdrawing Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) and migrating customers to replacement services.

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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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