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UK Digital Minister Supports a FTTP/H Future of “Gigabit” Broadband

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016 (1:12 pm) by Mark Jackson (Score 1,439)
matt_hancock_broadband_forum

The Government’s Digital Minister, Matthew Hancock MP, appeared to send all the right signals today when he told the ‘Broadband World Forum’ in London that “gigabit speeds” and pure fibre optic (FTTP/H) connectivity “is the future” that he wanted, with specific help for alternative networks.

Until now we haven’t been able to get much of a sense for Hancock’s position on the subject of broadband or even whether he supported his predecessors (Ed Vaizey) direction, which isn’t surprising because he’s only been in the job since mid-July 2016 (here). So today’s speech was the first real chance to gauge his position and the words were positive.

Predictably Hancock began his speech by recapping the Government’s work to push through a new 10Mbps broadband USO, as well as its efforts to expand public WiFi hotspots, the Broadband Delivery UK progress (i.e. 91% able to order a fixed superfast broadband [24Mbps+] service) and not to mention the 2015 agreement to deliver nearly universal coverage of mobile services.

Matthew Hancock, UK Digital Minister, said:

“Around five years ago we took a strategic decision, as a nation, to drive the roll out of high-speed broadband – based largely on what we should call part-fibre, part-copper solutions. That was the right decision then, because many countries that pursued early full-fibre strategies have left large swathes of their citizens on super-low-speeds.

But the price we’ve paid for 95% superfast part-fibre broadband is that only 2% of premises have full fibre. Yet demand marches on. Over the time it’s taken to deliver on the superfast plan, people’s needs and expectations have risen further.”

At this point the speech became more interesting as Hancock turned his attention to future policy and started to praise the “new entrants” to the market (alternative network operators like Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and so forth were named). “I will be on the side of the challenger: helping in every way I can to deliver fair competition and a level playing field … treating broadband as the fourth utility,” said Hancock.

The minister then lent his support to Ofcom’s Strategic Review and the “forcing BT with its incumbent infrastructure to open up access to, and maps of, its ducts and poles. It means ensuring a fair market in which all providers can compete for business.” A touch of pressure was also applied to the Advertising Standards Authority too, with more calls for “fair rules that reflect reality on speeds and prices.”

Matthew Hancock added:

“Around the world the evidence increasingly points to fibre roll out as the underpinning of a digital nation. To those who say it’s been tried and failed, I say go to Hull. It’s the one part of the country not covered by BT, and full fibre is now available to over half its businesses and homes.

But there is a clear role for Government, and we intend to play it: In setting the structure. And I am clear that we want a market structure that delivers fibre as widely as possible. In experimentation and testing. In reducing the costs. And above all in leadership, in setting the ambition. In some cases even in stating the obvious.

And believe you me: we will ensure Britain gets connected. The future is about enabling gigabit speeds, and high quality connectivity across the country. Demand is only going to rise so we need to stay ahead of the curve. When it comes to fibre, it is a case not of if, but of when.

I was interested to read INCA’s recent report, which said only a full fibre infrastructure is sufficient to support the UK’s digital growth. I agree: fibre is the future. The market will have to lead.

But Government can support that by ensuring the right incentives are in place and any barriers are removed. When I meet the altnets, INCA’s recommendations will top of my list of things to discuss. I want to know from you what we can do to reduce the cost of full fibre roll out, so that in reality as well as rhetoric, fibre is the future.”

In keeping with that the CEO of the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme, Chris Townsend, separately suggested that new funding for getting better broadband into the final 5% of premises would figure into next month’s Autumn Statement 2016 announcement.

Our educated guess is that at least part of this will revolve around the AltNet centric Broadband Investment Fund, which was first announced last year and has been slowly developed over the course of 2016 (details). This may attract a mix of public and private investment, which would be used to support the roll-out of “ultrafast broadband” via alternative networks.

Hancock separately admitted that the issue of a “fibre tax” was also on his radar, although it’s not clear if he meant tackling business rates or the proposal for an industry levy to help fund the roll-out of faster broadband. Perhaps we’ll find out in November.

On a less positive note Hancock also reconfirmed that inferior Satellite connectivity was still going to be an option for some of the most remote rural communities, most likely as part of the forthcoming USO. Otherwise most of what he said was positive, but words are easy and action is what people tend to demand.

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37 Responses
  1. GNewton

    Finally someone with some common sense here?

    • FibreFred

      Not really, more like stating the obvious

      We all want FTTP/H to be the future, what can we afford and how long are we willing to wait are the questions

      There’s nothing new here at all, let’s see what he has achieved in a few years

    • fastman

      Gnewton so I assume you will be asking for a full fibre quote then for your community !!!!

    • Bob2002

      @FibreFred

      Vaizey was interested in rolling out broadband to as many people as possible, he was not hugely interested in nationwide fibre because of problems he’d seen in Australia and the issues Google has had. He gives the impression of considering fibre more time and trouble than it’s worth.

      If Matthew Hancock has a strong belief in fibre roll out this will eventually translate into policy and implementation, it also sets the bar for opposition parties to match and improve upon – it should hopefully change the national conversation on fibre roll out.

    • GNewton

      @Bob2002: The original Australian NBN actually made a lot of sense. It was a political change from the previous Labour to the current Coalition government which put Australia back as regards fibre broadband. There is an interesting article about what went wrong with Turnball’s NBN (the MTM version):

      http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-01/manning-what-went-wrong-with-the-nbn/7210408

      The UK has been on a failed path for a number of years now with its broadband strategy which needs a complete rethink. Wasteful duplications of access infrastructures for the mass consumer market isn’t the answer. The lack of fibre investment security doesn’t help. Openreach needs to become a completely independent company. The VoA fibre tax sends the wrong signal. The list of failed policies is endless, the UK is far from becoming a future-proof leading digital economy.

    • FibreFred

      Bob,

      Indeed, so is Mr Hancock ignoring the issues in Australia and Google?

      It will only translate into policy if:

      There’s money and changes to allow that
      He’s in the position long enough to do something about it

      Let’s hope there is some big change though and a plan is put together

    • AndyH

      GNewton – I really struggle to understand how you think an Openreach that has been divested from the BT Group will lead to a nationwide FTTP network.

      Say for argument’s sake, Openreach is spun off. Where would the capital investment (even if we said a conservative £25 billion) come from for the investment for FTTP? It would be impossible to raise that kind of capital from the debt or equity capital markets (BT Group alone is rated BBB+, which is the bottom end of investment grade and close to the junk rating). No bank would ever underwrite or get involved in this level of capital raising. At the same time, the government will not invest this kind of money.

      I would really love to know where the capital comes from for a nationwide FTTP network.

    • GNewton

      @AndyH: I appreciate your concern. Making Openreach an independent company, away from BTs control, is only part of the solution. The government also needs to set the right framework, which includes long ROI security. E.g. for areas where a genuine FTTP is rolled out for the 1st time, no 2nd or 3rd competing fibre access infrastructure should be allowed for a long time. Possible models of how things could be done include the ones from NZ, or Australia’s original Labour NBN. Lower, or remove VOA’s fibre tax for a long time in the fibre investment areas. Come up with strategies to remove LLU, to facilitate REPLACEMENT of copper with fibre.

      BT Group may have a poor rating, which is no surprise. Why anybody would buy shares with that company is beyond me anyway. The poor credit rating wouldn’t necessarily be the case with an independent Openreach, nor with the government, nor with any of the other private industry investment partners. Money isn’t the issue, but setting up the right framework, and the right priorities, surely is. Just think of wasteful projects like the HS2, or all the wasted money on supporting failing banks. Money needs to go into real infrastructure investment projects, not into greedy bankers pockets.

      Ofcom has published a number of good reasons why Openreach should be independent. It just needs to re-address issues arising from the wastefulness of multiple parallel fibre access networks.

    • TheFacts

      Multiple access networks are wasteful for who? Will LLU go as people upgrade to FTTC etc.? But would Ofcom have to state that LLU companies have to see their customers move to an alternative. Currently Sky and Talktalk do not use OR FTTC.

      Need to hear your strategy for York.

  2. NGA for all

    Good to see the ambition beginning to be restored.

  3. FibreFred

    As for this:

    “forcing BT with its incumbent infrastructure to open up access to, and maps of, its ducts and poles. It means ensuring a fair market in which all providers can compete for business.”

    Great stuff, but who is actually going to use it to roll out FTTP on a large scale?

    I’m sure some altnets will take it up which is good, but what about those that have the money to push this out where it is needed?

    VM maybe? Not sure.

    TalkTalk? No
    Sky? No

    So…. there are no known big players that will use this then…. force all you like, but also force the loud mouth opponents of BT to start using it 🙂

  4. Data Analysis

    Wise words from Matthew Hancock, lets hope this time it translates to wise action.

  5. It would be more prudent for all new build estates to be connected via fibre optical direct into the homes.

    This would be a good place to start.

    By should also look at pulling copper out of the ground where there is already fibre to cabinets, and forcing customers onto fibre optics.

    • TheFacts

      They will be. If the developer asks.

    • AndyH

      It’s very unlikely we will see a recovery of copper cables on any scale. It can cause a lot of damage to other cables in the same conduit as cables to not pull out so easy (BT have trialled it).

      On the new developments, BT offer FTTP to new developments and will now deploy it free of charge to all new developments of 30 houses or more (subject to the usual ECCs – being within 4.5km of the exiting Openreach fibre network).

    • AndyH

      typo, “existing”

  6. fastman

    So the 450 CPs who consume only ccppper are immediately disagvanted and openreach breaks its condition of licence !!! great plan !!!!

  7. AndyH

    type “existing”

  8. Bob

    Just don’t get it… I get 14mpbs to my place. That is plenty for multiple streaming videos, surfing, working from home. FTTC is available, but just not interested. On my street of around 10 houses, only 8 have any sort of broadband at all.

    My parents and inlaws have adsl at 8mbps. FTTC is available, but they aren’t interested. The vast, vast, vast majority of people I know just want workable broadband. After about 10mpbs basic need is fulfilled and then the handful of people I know that have something faster is because they have a specific need for it. (Mainly either working from home or copious amounts of torrenting)

    I read on these forums time and again, people almost frothing at the mouth, demanding FTTH is necessary and FTTC is a deadend… but it simply isn’t true. A ubiquitous FTTH network isn’t necessary, cost effective, or even useful right now, save for businesses trying to use consumer broadband for business use, or feverish copyright infringement.

    At the moment we have the ridiculous situation of a tiny minority of track day drivers demanding the government subsidises every car in the country to be upgraded to do 200mph at ridiculous expense, regardless of the fact that most cars sit in traffic jams all day or are taken out once a week for the Sunday church run.

    • PhilipSmith72

      Speak for yourself Mate, whilst I agree talk of 300Mbps and upwards is a great way of providing for the future – the average family now needs much more than 14mbps.

      We can only get 20 – 22Mbps with a pitiful 1Mbps upload on FTTC, this grinds to a halt when my 2 kids are each watching youtube and we are trying to work from home, video conference, Netflix or use iPlayer etc.

      The current solution is not keeping up with demand in the connected world.

    • FibreFred

      So why are you the average family and Bob and others aren’t? 🙂

    • Chris P

      @PhilipSmith72

      youtube = ~4mbs = ~8mbs for 2
      netflix = ~4mbs
      videoconf = ~4mbs
      iplayer = ~4mbs

      total = 20mbs or 2mbs spare of your 20mb

      your videoconf will kill your 1mb upload bandwidth.

      performance problems will be dependant on your isp and what happens on the link in between your home and the end system.

      I’m in agreement with Bob, some people just don’t need faster broadband and are happy on the lowest offering.

      We have VM’s 70mb package which was their lowest tier, i’m more than happy to go to VDSL which for me is ~22mb, and was fine before we went with VM, if it is cheaper for me to do so.

      Our previous house had ADSL2 at ~22mb which was fine, our current house ADSL is ~ 8mb, if it was ~18mb+ i’d be on that with its cheaper monthly costs.

  9. fastman

    We can only get 20 – 22Mbps with a pitiful 1Mbps upload on FTTC — that sounds like a capped upload not sure netfix and iplayer would be affected by upload — my son trued to recently downlad and 22gig Game !!!! and was advised against it and to download it later in the evening – what are they downloading and when
    could also depend about who you buy your product from as well

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