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UK telcos set out their conditions to make fibre broadband universal

UK operators have outlined their requirements to make Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s demand for full-fibre broadband “for all” by 2025 a reality.

They prioritise four key issues and say that urgent action is required within 12 months if universal coverage is to accelerate.

An open letter from the telecoms industry said, “The industry stands ready to rise to this challenge, but we need a Prime Minister who can provide the direction, idealism and commitment to fulfil this ambition.”

It was signed by the leaders of the Internet Services Providers’ Association, the Federation of Communications Services and Independent Networks Cooperative Association which represent the telecoms industry, including large infrastructure players, start-ups and suppliers.

Members include BT, Sky, Virgin Media, Google and Vodafone. BT's new CEO, Philip Jansen, has already visited the Prime Minister asking that his government creates the right investment environment to make universal full-fibre possible.

Fibrous ambitions

Johnson outlined his wish for 100% rollout of fibre-optic broadband to properties across the UK “in five years at the outside" in an article for the Telegraph published before he won the Conservative Party leadership vote.

He called the then government’s plans to achieve universal full-fibre broadband by 2033 “laughably unambitious”.

The UK was bottom of the fibre penetration rankings (34 out of 34) for European countries with 1.3% according to research carried out between September 2017 and the same month in 2018, published in March by the FTTH Council.

Other laggards include Germany with 2.3% (fourth from the lowest). France is mid-ranking with 19.4%. For the third year running, Latvia top the table with 50.3% penetration, with Lithuania, Spain and Sweden close behind.

Four key areas

In their letter, the telecom organisations highlight four key areas which they say need addressing within in one year if the Prime Minister’s target is to be achieved:

• Reform of the ‘fibre tax’ – the organisations argue that fibre cables are still taxed as if they were to business premises. “Significant reform to this fibre tax would provide an immediate boost to the industry and significantly unlock more ambitious rollout plans,” they say.

• Wayleaves – plans to allow telecoms providers access to buildings and land to deliver broadband services where landlords are unresponsive need to be implemented as quickly as possible. Too often unresponsive landlords delay rollout in urban and rural areas, the organisations say.

• New builds – telcos claim too many new build homes are being developed without fibre connectivity as standard and plans to mandate fibre to all new builds should be put in place without delay.

• Skills – “National fibre rollout is one of Britain’s greatest engineering challenges,” the letter says. The groups call for investment in digital and engineering skills needs to be prioritised.

100% commitment needed

The National Infrastructure Commission has estimated that building and maintaining a full fibre network across the UK would cost £33.4 billion over 30 years.

The letter notes, “Nationwide full fibre coverage is not a can that can be kicked down the road, and these issues need to be resolved by your Government within the next 12 months to ensure that industry can continue to accelerate rollout.

“Industry is ready and willing to work with yourself, your Government and the new Digital Secretary to ensure that Britain’s connectivity is fit for the future. But that work needs to start now, and 100% fibre coverage requires a 100% commitment from Government.”

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