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The Independent Networks Co-Operative Association (Inca), which speaks up for the interests of smaller broadband network builders and internet service providers (ISPs) – also known as altnets – has called on Westminster to commit to a more ambitious target for fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) coverage.
In its newly released Building Gigabit Britain report, which was created with input from members including CityFibre, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, ITS, Relish and Warwicknet, as well as national players Sky and Vodafone, Inca said the government should set itself the target of having 80% of homes and businesses connected to FTTP by 2026, a decade from now.
It called for the suspension of all business rates on new fibre assets over the same period, for new regulations to encourage more competition and private sector investment, and an overhaul of advertising guidelines to give users more clarity on connectivity quality and explain the difference between FTTP and fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband.
“Unless the UK government takes action, we will be faced in the very near term with a clear divergence between supply and demand in our digital communications. The UK has some of the lowest pure fibre deployment in the OECD, yet our economy is one of the most digital in the world, which is dependent on our digital infrastructure,” said Inca CEO Malcolm Corbett.
Inca said that ultimately, only the deployment of pure FTTP infrastructure would support the UK’s growing needs. This is in contrast to the views of BT and Openreach, which are making encouraging noises about the potential of G.fast delivery technology, and have stood by the view that the best solution is a mixture of delivery tech.
The association pointed out that collectively, its members had already passed more than 650,000 premises, more than double the number of that Openreach has managed, and forecast that they will hit nearly five million premises, or 18% of the total population, with FTTP by 2020. This, Inca claimed, would mean its members would serve 1.5 million premises more than BT and Virgin Media combined.
“The altnets are doing a great job. Five years ago few of them existed, today they provide more than twice as many FTTP connections as BT and many more offer great wireless broadband services. These are the people Building Gigabit Britain and if we don't encourage and support their much needed investment, the UK’s economic position will be put at risk,” warned Corbett.
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Corbett acknowledged that government ministers and bodies such as Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) were beginning to recognise the importance of altnets to the overall picture, but said that much more needed to be done.
“We have presented a number of recommendations which, if followed, will not only help the telecoms industry to meet and exceed their current deployment plans – without government subsidies – but will also ensure our nation’s fibre infrastructure is future-proofed,” he said.