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UK government demands Ofcom boosts broadband development

In a UK legal and regulatory first, UK government constructs priorities for telecoms regulator Ofcom, principally regarding the roll-out nationwide of gigabit-speed broadband

In her valedictory act as a member of Parliament, and in a first for the a British government, UK secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport Nicky Morgan has laid priorities of focus for the UK’s telecoms regulator Ofcom, at the heart of which is ultrafast broadband.

In the first Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP), the government has asked Ofcom to do more to promote investment by broadband network providers and support new entrants to the market, helping to roll out nationwide gigabit speed broadband as soon as possible and clamping down on unfair business practices in telecoms.

It also wants Ofcom to work to make sure customers are better informed and protected. This includes making it easier for people to switch broadband providers and for an overall improvement in the quality of service that customers, especially the vulnerable, receive.

The future outcomes the government wants to see are: ensuring fair competition between new and existing network operators and stamping out anti-competitive behaviour; supporting new broadband providers, including by opening up access to Openreach’s network of telegraph poles and underground ducts to make it easier and cheaper for them to lay their own fibre cables; and stable and long-term regulation that incentivise investment in broadband networks.

It also wants Ofcom to: encourage innovation and investment in 5G services through additional spectrum release or sharing; provide better protections for consumers and an increase in their satisfaction with broadband and mobile services, including tackling harmful business practices such as “loyalty penalties”, where customers are charged significantly higher prices for staying with their providers for longer.

Even though it is officially independent from the executive, the government noted that Ofcom has a legal duty to pay regard to the SSP when carrying out its work.

“Today we’ve asked our world-class regulator Ofcom to help deliver on our shared ambitions to give people the digital and mobile connections they need and deserve,” said Morgan.

“We need a vibrant and competitive market to get gigabit broadband across the UK and we want Ofcom to encourage industry to get the job done.”

In the Queen’s Speech on 14 October, the UK government set out its ambition to roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the UK to achieve nationwide coverage “as soon as possible”.

It announced £5bn of funding to make sure the hardest-to-reach 20% of the country get gigabit speed internet at the same time that the market delivers it in more built-up areas.

It also announced on 25 October a £1.3bn scheme dubbed the Shared Rural Network (SRN), which proposes to wipe not-spots from the map, giving what the government claims will be “high-quality” 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025.

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