The UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has released its official response to July’s controversial Lords Inquiry into the UK government’s superfast broadband strategy, which called for a more competitive national fibre optic network to be built. But anybody expecting to see big changes will be disappointed.
As expected the government’s response somewhat shunned the Lord’s vast array of often complex recommendations and warned that its demand for a national network of open access fibre optic lines delivered via Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology would simply be too expensive.
The related idea of making people responsible for the potentially huge “final drop” connection cost of running fibre into their own homes was also perhaps correctly deemed to be too complex and expensive for “most householders” (especially in rural areas).
“It is not for Government to decide which technology is the most suitable, as it is likely that a mix of technologies will be needed in the UK, given the topography and commercial challenges faced in the more rural and remote areas of the UK. As the Committee recognises, delivering universal point to point Fibre to the Premise would be extremely costly – estimated at in excess of £25bn.”
The Lords demand for truly open access to Dark Fibre lines, which usually reference a high capacity fibre optic cable that has been laid by an operator but is not yet being fully utilised, was also somewhat unsurprisingly rejected. “Rather than expediting BDUK’s programme, mandating the provision of dark fibre is likely to impede progress,” said the report. The EU seems to disagree as it has called for tougher provisions to support Dark Fibre access, while the UK continues to adopt a more voluntary approach.
The government also rejected the Lords claim that it had become too “preoccupied with speed“, as opposed to focusing upon access and the need to create a “‘future proof’ national network which is built to last“. Never the less the full document repeatedly talks about specific service speeds and targets.
“Current policy is not built around precise speed targets. We have defined superfast broadband as a speed greater than 24 Mbps, in line with the definition adopted by Ofcom in a 2010 report and the BDUK Programme Delivery Model. That speed represented the limit of what was deliverable over copper lines using ADSL2 technology.“
As for the many related competition and regulation concerns, most of the buck for this was passed right back to Ofcom, with the government adding that, “Ofcom’s existing duties and powers are sufficient to ensure that there are competitive retail and wholesale broadband access markets operating in the UK“. Some might disagree, others less so.
Overall nobody should expect any significant changes to emerge as a result of the Lords admittedly somewhat radical approach. The government appears to have rejected most of the ideas and put its own spin on others to make those reflect their existing policy. In fairness this was always likely to be the outcome, especially given the limited budget at hand and the lateness of their report. The analysis would have been more useful had it been conducted before BDUK began awarding contracts.
Perhaps a far more interesting development to keep an eye on is the EU’s forthcoming recommendation for a series of allegedly “minor changes” to the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework (here). Details on that should surface within the next couple of weeks and could have a noticeable impact on current policy.
Government Response to the House of Lords Report (PDF)