Broadband industry ready for full fibre challenge but needs Government on board
For the historians it will be come as no suprise that we have been in this position before with grand statements on broadband in the United Kingdom (news story from 2012). We have been busy talking to various media outlets about how possibly or not the Prime Minister Boris Johnson ambition of 100% full fibre coverage is by 2025 and now a key part of this has been that a 2025 deadline means that broadband firms delivering full fibre need to triple the amount of FTTP they are building and this change needs to happen now.
An open letter has been sent by ISPA, INCA and FCS to the Prime Minister on the 100% full fibre topic and we encourage you to read it in full, rather than just the extracts we are showing.
The key message of the letter is that as a nation we need 100% Government commitment to the target and that the tools be provided to the broadband and civils industry to accomplish as much as possible without recourse to public funds.
Four areas are identified where policy changes are needed and if one looks at the speed (or lack of) in how the broadband USO has been implemented it is clear that a lot of late nights will be needed for the Government to get some of these changes through and in place earlier enough to make a difference.
- Fibre Tax: Fibre cables are still taxed as if they were business buildings. Significant reform to this fibre tax would provide an immediate boost to the industry and significantly unlock more ambitious rollout plans.
- Wayleaves: Plans to allow telecommunications providers access to buildings and land to deliver broadband services where landlords are unresponsive need to be implemented as quickly as possible – too often unresponsive landlords delay rollout in urban and rural areas.
- New builds: Too many new build homes are still being developed without fibre connectivity as a standard and plans to mandate fibre to all new builds should be pushed forward.
- Skills: National fibre rollout is one of Britain’s greatest engineering challenges. Investment in digital and engineering skills needs to be prioritised and our members need to be able to compete for global talent to fill the ever-increasing skills gap.Key action points from open letter to Government on full fibre ambition
We would have given the points a different order as we believe in order of importance the issues are Skills, i.e. a workforce of sufficient size and with experience of telecoms/civils work is needed; Fibre Tax this needs resolving ASAP to encourage firms to bring forward investment plans and expand faster; Wayleaves if the roll-out is to go at the pace needed we need to avoid having to wait months for wayleave negotiations; finally New Builds, at the end since the new build situation is improving every quarter but the legislation to ensure we close the gap from 75% to 100% is needed, we expect the market to probably deliver 90-95% of new build with full fibre without any legislation.
One change that would help industry and public expectations would be for DCMS to publish the 10% of the UK that is the hardest to reach areas where they expect to spend £3 billion to £5 billion to deliver full fibre. Prior to July 2019 the plan has been to deliver full fibre to public buildings e.g. schools/surgeries/council buildings in an area and rely on the prospect of a patch work of voucher based builds or subsequent roll-out in areas by broadband firms but with a 2025 100% goal this anchor tenant model is flawed, particularly when the most commonly involved firm to date is CityFibre who are going to obviously be focussing on the high density urban areas.
The full fibre picture is changing as shown by the growing coverage of the various networks on https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local which even though updated on Saturday 3rd August the full fibre figure has advanced from 8.46% to 8.47% and only hit 8% on 8th July 2019. If the 100% ambition is to be realised we need to be finding an extra 15,000 premises a day consistently, we have had days in 2019 where we have found more but there has been days where the amount found was as low as 1,000 premises.
We are ready for the challenge of tracking the progress to 100% full fibre coverage, we just need the Government and providers to start building a lot more of the stuff.