New-build homes in UK to come gigabit-speed ready

UK government carries on with ambitious plans to roll out full-fibre across nation by 2025

In what it calls a significant step up in its plans to level up the UK and accelerate the nationwide roll-out of world-class broadband with gigabit speeds, the UK government has announced that it will legislate to make sure new-build homes come with gigabit-speed broadband fit for the future.

In the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson’s newly elected government indicated that it would introduce laws to accelerate the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK. In the sections devoted to how the government wanted to improve the UK’s technological infrastructure and level up access across the country, the administration promised to support the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK with legislation to make it easier for telecoms companies to install digital infrastructure and to ensure all new homes are built with reliable and fast internet.

The speech also contained measures designed to ensure that all new homes are built with the fastest connectivity available, increasing certainty for businesses investing in gigabit-speed networks. It also has the aim of creating a cheaper and faster light-touch tribunal process for telecoms companies to obtain interim code rights (or access rights) for a period of up to 18 months. 

Such measures, first mooted in October 2019, would mean that suppliers could install broadband connections where a landlord has failed to respond to repeated requests for access. The government also committed to amending legislation so that all new-build homes are required to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections.

Even though the government’s ambition has been clear in allowing people to work from home more easily by giving homes fast and reliable connections, the government has now noted that a fifth of new-build homes are still being built without gigabit-speed connections, mostly in smaller developments where the cost can be higher or network operators have not had the time they need to build in connections before completion. 

In getting this underway, on 8 January the government presented to Parliament and gave a First Reading to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill 2019-20 and has now said that it will amend building regulations to guarantee that all new homes have the right infrastructure to support gigabit broadband and housing developers must work with network operators to install internet speeds of over 1,000Mbps in new-build homes, up to a cost cap of £2,000 per dwelling.

The move means developers will be legally required to install what is described as a high-quality digital infrastructure from the outset, make it a priority as part of the build, and ensure broadband companies are on board before the first brick is laid.

The legislation, to be laid as soon as parliamentary time allows, is also designed to remove the need to retrospectively install broadband infrastructure and reduce disruption and high costs. The policy, which will be laid as secondary legislation, applies to all new residential dwellings, including conversions and self-built homes, but excluding renovated buildings, schools, hotels and prisons.

“This legislation means every new home will be built fit for the future and give people access to world-class broadband speeds from the moment they move in,” said UK digital secretary Oliver Dowden. “It’s all part of our plan to deliver on our commitment to give everyone in the UK access to gigabit broadband, as we connect and level up the country.

The UK government is also working with the operator community to secure new commitments that they will contribute to the costs of installing gigabit broadband in new-build homes. Virgin Media will contribute at least £500, and in the case of some larger sites £1,000. BT’s Openreach division, the national broadband provider, has committed to a combined contribution with developers of £3,400, with a maximum developer contribution of £2,000. The government expects to have agreement from other operators in the coming weeks.

“Providing full-fibre to new homes is an important part of Openreach’s commitment to invest in faster, more reliable broadband technology – as part of our Fibre First strategy,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley.

“We’ve been … progressively lowering the plot size threshold at which we offer free full-fibre installation for new housing developments. This is now available to smaller developments of just 20 homes. In addition, we’ve capped the amount house builders contribute if they ask Openreach to build full-fibre to smaller-scale developments of just two and three premises – to help encourage further full-fibre take-up,” he added.

“We welcome the government’s announcement that all new-build homes will be required to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections, and we will work closely with government and housebuilders on the best way to deliver this,” added Virgin Media CEO Lutz Schüler. “Many property developers have been building brand new homes with second-rate broadband connections for far too long.”

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