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The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has opened two new consultations inviting the communications industry, members of the public and other stakeholders to provide input on plans to improve access to gigabit-capable full-fibre – or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – broadband services to tenants and buyers of new-build homes.
The twin consultations opened on the afternoon of 29 October to coincide with the 2018 Budget – which splashed more than £1.5bn on “advanced” technology and innovation. They address two closely related issues, ensuring that landlords and property developers provide fit-for-purpose amenities for their tenants and customers.
The government first committed to taking steps to change the law to give communications service providers (CSPs) and network builders a “right to enter” tenanted properties, and to make developers “bake in” FTTP in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, which was released back in July.
“While we make it easier for operators to roll out new full-fibre connections, we must also work to ensure that everyone who wants to receive gigabit-capable broadband is able to do so,” said digital minister Margot James.
In the case of rented properties, James said it was imperative that everyone who wanted access to gigabit-capable broadband services was able to do so.
“We must ensure that businesses and households that rent their properties are allowed to take an equal part in the national gigabit broadband upgrade, and not be left behind because of the inaction of a landlord,” she said.
“We are therefore proposing to take steps to compel landlords to consider the connectivity of their tenants, and to allow operators to install digital infrastructure where this does not take place.”
Guaranteeing access to FTTP for tenants would require changes to how the formal permissions, or wayleaves, needed to access properties and install equipment work. Operators have already told the government that many landlords, especially those who control blocks of flat, do not bother to respond to requests for access in about a quarter to half of cases. One operator cited a deployment where 96% of the properties could not be connected because of this problem.
The government also found there is little or no incentive for CSPs to allocate extra resources to pursue landlords who are ignoring the needs of their tenants, or keep engineers and construction crews on standby in a given area when their approaches are ignored.
In the light of this, the government proposes to introduce legislation that actively encourages landlords to engage with CSPs if a tenant requests a service. It also wants to amend the Electronic Communications Code to oblige landlords to facilitate access to their builds once suitably notified and, in cases where landlords are absent or unidentifiable, to empower magistrates to grant entry warrants similar to those used by electricity, gas and water suppliers.
Read more about full-fibre broadband
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In the case of new-build homes, James said she understood the frustration felt by many buyers who realise the property they have just bought does not have an adequate broadband connection, because she has frequently been contacted by people in exactly that situation.
“New-build developments are a clear case in which opportunities for progress are not being seized,” she said. “I commend the examples we have seen from the most proactive developers and communications providers. Developments with FTTP connections are truly fit for 21st century living; developments with no, or slow, connections are inexcusable.
“Poor connections have a disproportionate impact on residents and communities. When people cannot work from home, pay bills online or run small businesses, it is not just the individual who suffers. Slow, unreliable connections hamper innovation, stop collaboration between groups and make it harder for local economies and communities to thrive.”
The minister acknowledged the work already done by CSPs, network builders and property developers – earlier this month, Openreach moved to improve access by offering discounted installation to developers of smaller sites – but said much more still needed to be done.
The government is therefore proposing legal intervention to ensure developers have guaranteed access to gigabit-capable connections as a regulatory backstop to the work being done on a commercial basis.
In particular, it is keen to address a disparity that may be emerging between lower- and higher-value homes, with more expensive developments more likely to be set up with full-fibre services.
Any new legislation would require: developers to engage proactively with CSPs as part of the planning process through local authorities; operators to contribute to the costs of connections up to commercial norms, and developers to contribute above that cap up to an ultimate threshold; all developers to pay for, and deliver, the physical infrastructure that supports full-fibre; and would apply processes to ensure timely and efficient connection of sites, so that the internet works immediately the day the customer moves in.
Both consultations will run until 21 December 2018 and are available to view online.