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Government pledges full-fibre broadband for all by 2033

In a speech to the CBI, chancellor Philip Hammond pledges to build a nationwide FTTP network by 2033

Fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband connections will be made available to 15 million homes in the UK by 2025, and a full national FTTP network will be in place by 2033, chancellor Philip Hammond has pledged.

Hammond set out the new targets for broadband coverage in a wide-ranging speech delivered at the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI’s) annual dinner, in which he stressed the importance of full-fibre broadband as a growth engine for the UK economy comparable to the canals of the 1700s and the railways of the 1800s.

“I am now setting a new target to see full fibre-to-the-premises connections being available to 15 million premises – that’s the majority of homes and businesses – by 2025,” said Hammond.

“This is ambitious and it will require industry to connect more than two million additional premises a year for the next seven years.

“We won’t do that by government diktat. We will do it by creating the conditions for the market to deliver, and we will use all the tools at the government’s disposal to ensure that target is met…

“We’ll go further, by committing to finish the job – and deliver a nationwide full fibre-to-the-premises network by 2033,” said the chancellor.

Hammond added that it would do neither users nor suppliers any good to have both copper and fibre networks running concurrently, so the government has already started to think about plans for a switchover akin to that undertaken when digital TV services were introduced – and consider how to sharpen incentives for industry to move away from copper.

The culture secretary, Matt Hancock, will set out more details of the government’s strategy to deliver its new targets later this summer, when the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review is finalised.

Ofcom’s most recent set of broadband statistics claims that over a million homes and businesses in the UK can now access FTTP services, and current supplier targets for full-fibre roll-out could theoretically hit Hammond’s target right on schedule, as Clive Selley, CEO of national network builder Openreach, pointed out.

“We share the chancellor’s full-fibre vision for Britain”
Clive Selley, Openreach

“We share the chancellor’s full-fibre vision for Britain,” said Selley. “This year we’ll double our FTTP footprint, and by 2020, we will have built it to three million homes across the UK. We want to reach 10 million premises by the mid-2020s, and believe we can ultimately fully fibre the majority of the UK under the right conditions.”

Other builds, notably the joint CityFibre-Vodafone roll-out, could potentially account for another five million properties over the same period. However, it is important to note that in practice, it is by no means clear to what extent future FTTP network builds will overlap, especially when work by other suppliers such as Gigaclear, Hyperoptic or Virgin Media are taken into account.

“The chancellor’s announcement of more ambitious full-fibre roll-out targets underlines more than ever the need to end the UK’s make do and mend approach to digital infrastructure: copper is dead. It is time to focus on building the future-proof full-fibre networks that will underpin the UK’s economy for generations to come,” said Greg Mesch, founder and chief executive of CityFibre.

“For this ambition to be realised, the government and Ofcom must now rapidly set out a clear plan to lessen the country’s reliance on Openreach and harness the momentum and major investment being made by new entrants.”

Matthew Hare, chief executive at Gigaclear, added: “We must not underestimate the sheer scale of the challenge. Gigaclear is accelerating its commitment in pioneering the delivery of world-class, ultrafast connectivity in rural locations, and we can move even faster if the practical barriers that restrict the roll-out of new full-fibre networks are addressed. It is only then that we will start to see full-fibre broadband delivered on a truly national scale to every home and business.”

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