£5 billion to support full fibre roll-out in 20% of UK
The joy of politics is that so much is leaked and released as whispers ahead of announcements that piecing the puzzle together can be complex and what people hear when a speech is given is in the end often coloured by their own perceptions. So here we go with what we believe has been said by Chancellor Sajid Javid on Monday 30th September at The Conservative Party conference.
And last but not least: connecting us to the modern, global digital economy with gigabit broadband.
We have rolled out superfast broadband but we have fallen behind many European countries on the next generation of technology.
And as we catch-up I don’t want any part of our country to fall behind others.
So I can announce we are committing £5bn to support full-fibre rollout to the hardest to reach 20% of the country.
All of these measures will level up areas of our country that feel left out.Extract from Chancellors speech courtesy of Sky News
Earlier today the chatter was that the £5 billion was for a mixture of full fibre and 5G funding, possibly under the umbrella that arises from considering 5G a Gigabit capable technology (5G can deliver Gigabit speeds, but many implementations of 5G already exist that do not deliver Gigabit, and we are certain that any 5G operating in the 700 MHz frequency band will not deliver 5G speeds).
The speech while not fully dropping the technology neutral moniker of 'Gigabit capable', does talk about full fibre in relation to the £5 billion. This flip flop between critical technology words been a common feature of speeches involving broadband since politicians became aware of the technology. Hopefully once the £5 billion stops being a line in a speech and is heading out to tender it will a lot clearer what the goal and the accepted technologies will be.
Sajid Javid’s announcement of £5bn for the rollout of full fibre and gigabit capable broadband is welcomed. We agree with its focus on targeting rural areas as a priority, but the calculation for this £5bn of funding was estimated using the 2033 target, not the updated 2025 ambition.
Considering this level of funding has not taken into account the new 2025 ambition, this puts an even stronger emphasis for the Government to now combine this funding with urgent regulatory reform to the sector. This increased funding can be spent far more efficiently if the Government also considered immediate reform to the fibre tax and to bring in wayleaves legislation. Without these regulatory changes there will still be the same barriers that are already preventing industry from accelerating the rollout of full fibre and gigabit capable broadband.ISPA’s response to this announcement
The ISPA response highlights an important point, especially as the numerous commercial full fibre builders will be concentrating on their already announced commercial roll-outs. What a company could achieve in 12 years previously is going to have to be squeezed into a five year period and that means more staff working at the same time. The problems of stretched resources are readily apparent from the Devon and Somerset problems with Gigaclear. While full fibre needs lots of people involved in the actual physical build when you accelerate the roll-out the speed at which you can obtain the fibre itself and associated hardware becomes more critical. The standard supply and demand rules mean that suppliers will likely therefore charge more.
There is a hint that the £5 billion is not the total pot of money for rolling out full fibre to what is expected to be 4.9 million to 5.4 million premises in the rural areas of the UK, the 'phrase to support full-fibre rollout' suggests that this is not seen as a Government roll-out but something possibly similar to the old BDUK process, with extra funding from commercial operators (and maybe even local authorities again). Some form of match funding makes sense in rural areas it is very unlikely a £1,000 per premises will work out as the average cost to build, the costs could be several times this for some of the hardest to reach.
All this uncertainty is nothing new, as we were writing very similar things about the superfast broadband roll-outs back in 2010/2011 and 2012 but there is a lot more uncertainity outside the broadband sphere and that due to Brexit, since no-one truly knows exactly what will happen or if October ends in a no-deal what the knock on effect and whether this speech and its aims will survive the next General Election.
Just before pressing publish, one of the rural full fibre providers has sent across a few words:
This afternoon at the Conservative Party Conference Chancellor Sajid Javid talked about kick-starting an infrastructure revolution and announced an extra £5bn for accelerating gigabit broadband deployments in the hardest to reach rural areas.
Of course we welcome this public investment in the UK’s critical digital infrastructure. But the devil is in the detail: we need to understand just where and how the £5bn is going to be spent.
We’re hoping it’s going to support a wide range of mechanisms and processes to support what this country needs. The initiative must protect the independent providers that are working to connect previously ignored areas - and must not encourage wasteful overbuilding.We urge the government to move quickly to avoid the UK slipping even further behind other Western European nations in gigabit broadband roll-outs.Truespeed CEO Evan Wienburg on the Chancellor’s speech
And another comment from CityFibre whose roll-out is urban centric.
We welcome the funding announced today for full fibre rollout in the most rural 20% of the UK. CityFibre, with a commitment to build full fibre to 5m properties by 2025, shares the Chancellor's aim of levelling up the country as part of an infrastructure revolution.
It’s vital the whole of the UK benefits from transformative connectivity and no-one is left behind. To do this we must maximise coverage by minimising duplication. This is where the Government can play a vital role, helping industry to be as transparent as possible about build plans, and by ensuring access to Openreach’s ducts and poles is fit for purpose.Greg Mesch, Chief Executive Officer at CityFibre