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UK government confirms gigabit broadband roll-out, rows back on 2025 delivery commitment

UK government confirms plans to roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the UK, yet quietly shelves previous pledge to do so by 2025

The UK government has confirmed plans to roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the UK, yet its previous pledge to do so by 2025 has been quietly shelved.

In one of the first public statements he made in July 2019 after becoming prime minister, Boris Johnson pledged he would work towards “delivering full-fibre [broadband] to every home in the land” by 2025, and in October 2019, chancellor Sajid Javid committed £5bn of public funding at the Conservative Party Conference to “support the roll-out of full-fibre, 5G and other gigabit-capable networks to the hardest-to-reach 20% of the country”.

Yet as the Queen set out the government’s agenda for the new Parliament, which will likely not be enacted due to the current parliamentary arithmetic, firm timelines for the broadband plans, in particular the 2025 commitment, were conspicuous by their absence. Instead, the speech merely stated that the government’s ambition was to roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the UK to achieve nationwide coverage “as soon as possible”.

The government added that, in addition to the fibre commitment, the purpose of its plans was to ensure that all new homes would be built with what it called “reliable and fast” internet speeds, and that it wanted the UK population to no less than “reap the huge benefits of the fastest, most secure and most resilient internet connections, regardless of where they live”, making it easier for telecoms companies to install broadband infrastructure in blocks of flats.

One of the main elements of the new legislation was confirmation of plans, as reported by ComputerWeekly earlier this month, to amend the current Electronic Communications Code, which allows operators to apply to a tribunal for provisional rights to enter a property and install infrastructure where a tenant has requested a service, the landlord’s permission is required for that service to be delivered and the landlord has failed to respond to repeated requests for access from an operator.

The Queen’s Speech also revealed that the government would amend the Building Act 1984 so that building regulations require all new-build developments to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections. This follows two new consultations from the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) 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.

In the broadband debate, one of the so-called hardest-to-reach places includes rural Somerset, where a recent survey conducted by fibre broadband provider Truespeed painted a bleak picture for local businesses as to the consequences of the lack of high-speed connectivity. Half of the respondents said their poor internet connections were already restricting their businesses and almost 10% said they had no broadband coverage at all.

Commenting on what such a lack of connectivity meant for his members, Stephen Henagulph, chief executive of the county’s Chamber of Commerce, said the survey pointed to Somerset’s business growth prospects being hindered considerably unless there was an urgent uptake in ultrafast broadband network investment.

“Somerset Chamber will push hard for more to be done to ensure our businesses can compete on a level digital playing field,” he added.

As reported by Computer Weekly in September, BT is spearheading plans to accelerate switchover from copper to fibre. Commenting on the Queen’s Speech and its ramifications for full-fibre roll-out, a spokesperson for its Openreach infrastructure division said: “We’ve been calling for measures that encourage greater investment in full-fibre broadband networks, so it’s great to see the government outlining new legislation that will do just that. [The speech] aligns with our ambitions to build faster, more reliable broadband to as many homes and businesses as possible, and to help make sure no one is left behind. There’s still more government can do – for example, reforming business rates which penalise fibre infrastructure – but this is a positive step in the right direction.”

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