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UPD2 Culture Secretary Fixes UK Planning System for Broadband Rollout Boost

Friday, September 7th, 2012 (12:52 pm) - Score 929

The UK government’s new Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt Maria Miller MP, has announced plans to “fast-track” the roll-out of superfast broadband (25Mbps+) services around the country by resolving “unnecessary bureaucracy” in the current planning system. However the proposals are nothing new.

At present the coalition government claims to be investing £680 million through its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office into superfast broadband (it’s closer to £1bn if you count the BBC’s £300m post-2015 funding), which aims to make the service available to 90% of UK people by 2015.

Last month saw Miller’s predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, propose for the UK to have not only the “best” but also the “fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015” (note the use of “major“, which according to Ed Vaizey MP means just “France, Germany, Italy and Spain“) and to extend its coverage target beyond the current 90% (population) figure (here). Miller today warned that this could only be achieved if the existing “swathe of red tape is … swept away“.

New Planning System Changes

* Broadband street cabinets can be installed in any location other than Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) without the need for prior approval from the local council and without any conditions being placed upon the construction or design by local authorities except in exceptional circumstances;

* Broadband fibre and other broadband infrastructure can be located under or above private land without the bureaucratic burden of long-running negotiations; and

* Overhead broadband lines can be installed in any area without the need for planning or other permission (we will encourage providers to engage with the local community on the siting of overhead lines as a matter of good practice).

* In addition, we will: broker a new deal for broadband installation with industry and highway authorities to ensure that traffic regulation does not hinder the roll out of superfast broadband;

* Insist that any new local authority street work permit schemes approved between now and 2015 are focussed on the most traffic sensitive streets; and

* Review all existing permit schemes and the way works are classified, in order to streamline processes, shorten timescales for approval of works, and reduce fees.

* We will also: facilitate discussions between broadband infrastructure providers, power companies and Ofgem to develop a standardised national power supply contract for broadband infrastructure.

Miller said that the government would also work with mobile phone operators, local authorities (councils) and other “interested parties” to consider ways that the planning process might be streamlined to speed up the deployment of mobile broadband infrastructure (future superfast 4G (LTE) services).

Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said:

Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country’s future – to kick start economic growth and create jobs. We are putting in the essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery.

The Government means business and we are determined to cut through the bureaucracy that is holding us back.”

A VirginMedia spokesperson added:

Efforts to cut through the red tape that hampers the rollout of better broadband are welcome but overdue. We’re fully behind the Government’s ambition to ensure Britain has the best broadband in Europe and steps like this will help support Virgin Media’s on-going private investment. We’re in the process of doubling the speeds of over four million households across the country so the Government’s reforms will be a big boost in ensuring we’re able to better deploy our services to consumers and businesses.”

In reality many of these “new” ideas have been on the cards since the government first revealed its original strategy in 2010, although they’ve yet to be formally implemented. Suffice to say that in the future anybody who complains about one of BT’s new, big and green FTTC cabinets might find their gripe harder to resolve.

Meanwhile the government is still attempting to resolve the European Commission’s (EC) competition concerns (e.g. lack of dark fibre access and BT’s dominance of the current bidding process etc.), which is necessary before any public funding allocations can be released.

A ruling on the EC’s area(s) of concern is expected sometime this “autumn” but has already resulted in the completion date for the related Local Broadband Plans (LBP) / procurement process being shifted back from “by the end of 2012” to July 2013 (the above planning changes are due to be ready within the same timeframe but might not get implemented until 2013). It should be said that different LBP’s will complete at different times and several have already concluded (e.g. Wales), pending EC state aid approval. Better late than never, perhaps.

One key question about today’s proposals, which has yet to be fully clarified, is whether or not all of the changes will only benefit those operators (e.g. BT) that can take part in BDUK’s process or if they will be applied more generally.

UPDATE 8th September 2012

UK ISP TalkTalk has welcomed the proposed changes.

Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, said:

We welcome the plans to fast-track the superfast broadband roll-out. Removing unnecessary barriers and reducing costs of deployment are a positive step and we believe the government should devote similar energy to ensuring competition and encouraging accessibility for all. Only a competitive and inclusive market will ensure that the new networks are fully utilised and offer the widest possible coverage, the lowest costs to consumers and deliver economic growth.”

The Country Land & Business Association (CLA), which had also been working on a national wayleave agreement, has echoed TalkTalk’s remark.

Harry Cotterell, CLA President, said:

We have frequently said it is vital the Government’s twin objectives – a universal service provision of at least two megabits per second and a superfast network where it is possible – are put in place by 2015. The measures announced today could go some way towards achieving this.

We will be looking at the detail of the Government’s announcement and future policy to ensure any proposed changes do not have an adverse impact on land managers. This is particularly the case in respect of the installation of broadband infrastructure on our members’ land.”

The government aims to introduce the new changes around Spring 2013.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
16 Responses
  1. Avatar Phil says:

    Sack her! Maria Miller knew nothing about future broadband!

    1. Avatar Bob2002 says:

      She only assumed office on the 4th of September. We need to give her a chance, let’s say a week, then sack her … 😉

  2. Avatar Sheffield Owl says:

    In the words of the Jimmy Ruffin song…….

    “I’ve passed this way before”…

  3. Avatar Bob2002 says:

    From MrSaffron’s Twitter feed, a DCMS comment on the timescale of changes –

    “@mrsaffron – We want to see consultations completed around spring next year and leglislate asap after this time”


  4. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Give credit where it’s due people: it won’t hinder superfast roll-outs surely, (though it probably won’t make much difference either).

  5. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

    I think it will make a positive difference to the roll-out but on the other hand I’m not quite sure how you’d measure that, especially given how every area will be different. Still they should help, it’s just such changes would have worked even better had they been introduced before last year as seems to have been the original plan.

  6. Avatar Edd says:

    This shows how much red rape their is in making legislation. If you can’t even make minor changes to the planning system without legislation where does that leave our country? These things should be so simple that they can be implemented within weeks not months.

    1. Avatar Somerset says:

      These are not minor changes. Includes size of extensions. Called democracy.

  7. Avatar DTMark says:

    So what happens if another company, say Sky, decided to also start installing six foot high cabinets next to the BT ones?

    Then Virgin Media do the same… it would look like a mini substation on a pavement.

    If we have to have these cabinets, can’t they (the tech) be buried underground?

    Much as I’d love to have a short to medium term semi fibre service like BT’s FTTC thing, there is no way I’d want one in my garden or very near my house and I suspect many round here would feel the same.

    1. Avatar Deduction says:

      It would be interesting to see what would happen if that occurred outside her home… Another of the good for every else but NIMBY mob i suspect.

  8. Avatar Flake says:

    Just lifted this off BBC’s website in relation to this article “The commitment includes £150m to create 10 “super-connected” cities offering download speeds of at least 80Mbps (megabits per second) by 2015, and £530m from the BBC licence fee to help boost speeds in the countryside.”

    Let me get this right, the government are taking £530m from the BBC, money which should be used to create more and better tv/radio shows and btw £145 per annum of it is mine,giving it to private companies so they can provide to people that CHOOSE to live in the countryside a faster bb connection?

    My advice to people living in the countryside who have a slow internet connection;If you want a faster connection (a) MOVE or (b)PAY FOR IT OUT YOUR OWN POCKET AND NOT OUT OF MINE. Ive been looking for a reason to get rid of my tv and the half-witted Secretary of State has just handed me a golden reason on a plate.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      The original BDUK strategy was to look to provide broadband and/or superfast broadband to the “final third”, who are often mistakenly identified as those living in the countryside when they are more generally all the people who live more than about 2km from a phone exchange with no access to an altnet e.g. cable.

      The strategy was completely abandoned.

      Now, the strategy, if I can call it that, is for the Government to take peoples money and give it to a single private company (more or less) in order to ensure that competition is locked out, to entrench a monopoly posion and kill off private sector investment from anyone else, and in the process to kill the altnets.

      This may or may not pump a tiny amount of cash into the country’s GDP so the Government can claim to be “doing something” and perhaps in some small way offset the disaster that is economic growth leaving customers with no choice and the same haphazard random availability of modern broadband we have always had.

      At least, with the BBC, you have a choice. You can always watch the tat on ITV if you prefer or subscribe to a paid service and watch some tat (mostly, anyway) bought in from the US via a Sky service.

    2. Avatar Somerset says:

      A customer has choice of ISP who offer a range of services and prices. In the same way as with power. Or should we be able to have 2 gas pipes into homes?

    3. Avatar Deduction says:

      ^^^^ and using that idiot argument with the internet means nobody owns anything. GAS is a physical product which is bought and exschanged. Zeros and ones down a phone cable is not.

  9. Avatar Felicity says:

    I’ve got one of the Green Cabinets right outside my garden – OK technology yes (but not the awful sounding fan inside – something wrong there eh?) and not the adverts – they do not have permission for them or what. I’ve seen pictures of the whole of one side covered in their advert – urbanising quiet suburban roads – come BT – get’em off and spraypaint the old tatty BT boxes instead please

  10. Avatar Chris Lee says:

    I have read all this but one area is still unclear. Are any amendments proposed to the ‘Village Greens Act’ without such amendment the proposals will not apply to registered village greens.

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