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The government has talked BT’s local access network unit Openreach and the Home Builders Federation (HBF) into an agreement to make it easier to deploy fibre-based broadband services into new housing developments.
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Up to now, deploying broadband networks into new housing has been a somewhat ad-hoc and unpredictable process, with a few developments well served from day one with fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services and a tiny minority with fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP).
However, many people moving into new-build homes have faced a long, frustrating and expensive wait to get connected.
A recent investigation by broadband website Cable.co.uk discovered that residents of one development in the Midlands had to wait six weeks to receive a basic asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) broadband service.
Residents of Persimmon Homes’ Moat House Field development in Solihull were then asked for a contribution of £20,000 by Openreach to upgrade a nearby cabinet to fibre after the developer failed to install a service.
The new deal is intended to remedy some of these problems. Under the agreement, Openreach will introduce an online planning tool for homebuilders, which will tell them whether properties in a given development can be connected to broadband services for free or whether the developer will have to jointly fund a network build.
Openreach claimed that about 50% of developments should be able to receive an FTTC service at no charge.
BT said Openreach would make a significant contribution itself – about £550 per home – before seeking funding from developers, but should a joint funding model be required, it will offer a rate card setting out the fixed cost contributions that developers will need to make.
Meanwhile, the HBF has undertaken to promote and support uptake of the co-funding model among its members, and remind them of the need – and the expectation – to factor broadband connectivity into new housing developments.
“Broadband connectivity is just one thing that home buyers now expect when buying a new-build,” said digital economy minister Ed Vaizey. “So this industry-led push to make superfast, or indeed ultrafast, broadband speeds available by default in new homes represents a very important step in meeting the UK’s digital needs.”
Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the HBF, added: “Housebuilders are constantly striving to deliver on, and surpass, the expectations of customers as we continue to see housing supply grow.
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“Broadband speeds are an increasingly important factor in the home-buying process and this offer to developers will see more new-build purchasers benefit from the very best connectivity to go alongside the many other advantages of purchasing a brand new home.”
However, elements of the scheme have been criticised for giving developers potential loopholes to avoid deploying services.
For example, if a developer does not wish to take up an FTTC service, it will still have the option to install ADSL broadband, which in most cases does not qualify as superfast under the government definition of 24Mbps.
Dan Howdle, consumer comms expert at Cable.co.uk, said: “What is the purpose of a network provider making it easier for developers to install proper broadband infrastructure if it still remains the homebuilder’s choice as to whether or not to take action?
“These measures are arbitrary and unlikely to have any effect. They comprise neither legislative enforcement of superfast for new-builds, nor any obligation for homebuilders to inform buyers that they face years of broadband misery.
“Today’s announcement allows homebuilders to continue to do exactly what they have been doing – to sell homes with little or no broadband connectivity and without forewarning their buyers.”