Government needs you to explain how more full fibre can be encouraged
The speech the Rt. Hon. Matt Hancock MP, Minister of State for Digital and Culture gave at Broadband World Forum in late 2016 was seen as representative of a sea change in how the UK Government saw broadband, and now it might be possible that rather than being purely a speech to make the troops happy there might be the start of further changes.
DCMS has started a Call For Evidence that runs until the end of January 2017 which is looking at Extending Full Fibre Networks. The evidence should therefore help the Government to determine what to do with the £1 billion of funding announced in the Autumn Statement that is to boost UK Digital Infrastructure (i.e. full fibre and 5G).
"In order to move to the next level of ubiquitous high speeds and reliability it is clear that, whilst there a number of interim technologies giving connectivity at ever faster speeds, full fibre is the future. The market will be in the vanguard of delivering full fibre, but there is an important role for Government to support this, by ensuring the right incentives are in place and barriers to investment are removed.
I am therefore delighted that in his Autumn Statement 2016, the Chancellor announced the government’s proposal for funding targeted at supporting market rollout of full fibre and 5G. This will bring faster and more reliable broadband for homes and businesses across the UK, and boost the next generation of mobile connectivity. It will be delivered in partnership with local areas, prioritising funding for new full fibre business connections.
This Call for Evidence sets out a number of approaches we can take to stimulate the market to extend full fibre networks in areas across the UK, including full fibre business vouchers, public sector data aggregation and supply side approaches. I hope you will engage with this Call for Evidence."Rt. Hon. Matt Hancock MP, Minister of State for Digital and Culture
As with previous consultations questions are used to help guide the responses with the three questions being:
- What local approaches have been taken to date or are planned - either in the UK or internationally - to stimulate the market delivery of full fibre networks, in both urban and rural areas, and what results have they achieved? Where appropriate please provide evidence and any other additional information.
- What evidence is there to demonstrate the effectiveness and potential of approaches A to F above (*), specifically in the context of stimulating the rollout of local full fibre networks in urban and rural areas?
- What is the most effective and efficient delivery model Government can use to stimulate future delivery of full fibre networks across the UK in both urban and rural areas, building on and integrating approaches that have been taken to date?
The approaches A to F are: Public sector demand aggregation, Voucher schemes for private sector demand aggregation, Making public sector assets available, Access to location data on infrastructure assets, Directly funding fibre routes in uneconomic areas and Potential pilots.
The elephant in the room is exactly what will happen to the BT Group and Openreach, as this could result in a massive change in how Openreach behaves e.g. with much larger amounts of investment they might embark on a fifteen year plan to get full fibre to 95% of the UK, or alternatively they might be starved of investment and sweat existing assets with a slow period of decline as competing operators make increased use of Openreach ducting and eventually just become a duct and pole operator with no active hardware or local loop cabling. This is important as even with the increasing competition today, Openreach somehow is still the largest fibre to the premises operator in the UK in terms of premises passed.
It is easy to look abroad and celebrate the much higher levels of full fibre that a number of countries now have, but drawing conclusions about the business benefits are more complex as in many cases the full fibre replaced the first generation ADSL based services, this makes it harder to tell if the business benefits are due to the pure fibre nature or just anything that is better than existing services.
There is no doubt that full fibre is the future and even in BT Group this gets acknowledged, the difference is the way we get there i.e. via various incremental steps or the slower build it once but should not need touching for a century approach.
One area that needs addressing already with pure fibre is the wholesale market, Sky and TalkTalk still do not sell GEA-FTTP even in areas where Cornwall where the density is high and with Gigaclear expanding rapidly in rural areas a wider choice of retailers becomes more critical. For the average consumer the provider choice matters less, other than the inability to chase the best price offers, but in the SME and business sector there can problems due to long contracts and the way email/websites/e-shops are often all tied into the existing broadband connection deal.