The department for culture, media and sport (DCMS) introduced its new minister to the broadband industry today with controversial rules aiming to speed up deployment of superfast connections across the UK.
Maria Miller, who takes over from Jeremy Hunt following prime minister David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, announced a number of legislative proposals, hoping to remove bureaucracy she feels is getting in the way of roll-out.
“Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country’s future – to kick start economic growth and create jobs,” Maria Miller said. “We are putting in the essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery.”
The first proposal is to allow service providers to install street cabinets or other broadband infrastructure without having to receive permission from the local council involved, unless it is a site of scientific interest.
Previously, ISPs such as BT have been forced to remove cabinets after installing them without consent when councils have received complaints from residents. This happened in Muswell Hill and Kensington and Chelsea, in London.
Miller has also promised to cut the cost and paperwork in laying cables in the street and installing on private land, as well as enabling overhead cables to be installed in any area without planning permission.
“The government means business and we are determined to cut through the bureaucracy that is holding us back,” said Miller.
The DCMS promised to work with mobile operators, local government organisations and any other interested parties to streamline the planning process and enable more mobile connectivity to be rolled out, as well as fixed line broadband. It said it hoped to legislate very soon to enable these powers for the next five years.
The DCMS proposals have received the backing of ISPs and industry groups alike. Pamela Learmonth, CEO of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, said: “Removing the bureaucratic boulders from the broadband road ahead is most welcome news.
"The task ahead is to capitalise on these measures to boost broadband deployment for the benefit of UK consumers.”
Julian David, director general of Intellect, said: “Today’s announcement is a much needed boost for those businesses who are crying out for access to better broadband as a route to growth and will also enable new businesses to spring-up across the country, creating jobs and wealth.”
However, local councils may have differing opinions.
“We are pro-broadband here in Kensington and Chelsea but we are pro-conservation too,” said Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell, leader of the borough council. “It is perfectly possible to resolve the tension between the two through mature negotiation.
“We have already reached a situation with BT Openreach where 115 out of 120 of the locations proposed have been agreed without compromising on our duty to look after our heritage. Indeed, we have even offered to waive planning fees worth over £40,000 to help rapid broadband roll-out.
“In any event, Kensington and Chelsea is already bristling with the latest IT,” he concluded.
Computer Weekly also contacted Haringey Council – which covers Muswell Hill – but it had not responded to our request at the time of publication.