A welcome change of tone from government over FTTP broadband

As citizens of the UK try to decipher the new thinking and emerging rhetoric of a post-Brexit-vote government and a new Prime Minister, for us in tech there is already a welcome change of tone in one vital area.

For six years, we were constantly told by former digital minister Ed Vaizey what a great job BT was doing in rolling out so-called superfast broadband – the fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) and copper to the home service that BT somewhat erroneously refers to as “fibre broadband”.

All that time, the broadband sector beyond BT was asking, what about fibre to the premises (FTTP)? Fully fibred broadband is clearly the future – recognised by the world’s leading digital countries, such as South Korea or Japan.

But all the old government was concerned about, so it seemed, was the fact our broadband was better than our European counterparts in France, Germany, Spain or Italy.

Perhaps the new Brexit spirit of presenting Britain as a global trading nation beyond the European Union has seeped into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Vaizey’s successor, Matt Hancock, is clearly trying to change the conversation around broadband.  This week, he rightly described FTTP as the “underpinning of a digital nation”. He added that “the price we’ve paid” for rolling out FTTC to 90% of UK homes and businesses was that only 2% of premises had access to FTTP.

This is, of course, what the non-BT broadband world has been saying for years.

BT, bless it, has seen the writing on the wall and is now talking in terms of accelerating its FTTP plans – about time too. But it’s still focused first on further sweating its copper last-mile infrastructure for as long as it can.

The push for FTTP was kick-started by Ofcom earlier this year, when its communications market review threatened BT with full separation of its Openreach operation – a threat that Hancock has endorsed. BT needs to show it is playing a leading role in FTTP roll out – and that also means fully supporting rivals who want to take the initiative themselves using BT’s poles and ducts.

A Brexit Britain cannot and will not be internationally competitive unless it is also one of the world’s leading digital nations – and that means FTTP broadband for all.

Theresa May has promised investment in Britain’s infrastructure – we await the November autumn statement to find out how far she is willing to go in building the digital infrastructure that will be vital for our future economic prosperity.