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UPDATE8 Gov Pledge 95% of UK to Get Fixed Superfast Broadband by 2017

Thursday, Jun 27th, 2013 (10:29 am) - Score 1,788

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury for the United Kingdom, Danny Alexander, has today published full details of the country’s future infrastructure spending plans (‘Investing in Britain’s Future‘). Included in this is a £250 million commitment to ensure fixed line superfast broadband reaches 95% of the population by 2017 (99% by 2018 with wireless).

Yesterday’s 2013 Spending Review update was primarily focused on how the government would implement another round of £11.5 billion in cuts. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Infrastructure investment is due to be given another boost and broadband is once again on the cards. Unfortunately we had to wait until today to get the details.

Danny Alexander said:

This government has already committed to a £1.2 billion programme of public investment in fixed superfast broadband. I’ve seen first-hand the impact that our investment is making in smaller, rural communities, such as when I visited Rothbury in Northumberland.

It’s absolutely crucial, if we want to rebalance our economy that it’s not just the biggest cities that have access to the fastest broadband. Now the UK already has better broadband coverage, usage, and choice than Germany, Italy, France and Spain.

But we want to go further. So I can announce today that we are providing a further £250 million to ensure fixed superfast broadband reaches 95% of the population by 2017.”

In addition Alexander also pledged that “at least” 99% will have access to any form of superfast broadband by 2018, which also includes the use of wireless services (4G, fixed wireless etc.) as well as fixed line solutions. However this is broadly in keeping with the already expected coverage of 4G mobile technology.

On the other hand 2015 is after the next general election and thus any targets set for such a period should be taken with a big pinch of salt, especially if there’s a change of government. It’s certainly not uncommon for governments to become radically more ambitious, and less realistic, with their proposals prior to an election.

So far the government’s £530m Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme (excluding the related mobile and troubled super-connected city scheme), which initially aimed to help extend the coverage of superfast broadband (25Mbps+) speeds to 90% of the country by the end of 2015, hasn’t exactly had the best run of things. Indeed the latest update warns that “nearly” 90% should be covered by the end of 2015 (i.e. the target will probably slip into 2016).

The project has faced funding delays due to EU competition concerns (BT are the only viable bidder), many related contracts are now being signed to complete in 2016 instead of 2015 and the Major Projects Authority has warned that the “successful delivery of the project is in doubt” (here). On top of that the National Audit Office is next month expected to add extra fuel to the “train crash waiting to happen” with its own report (here).

Furthermore the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently described the government’s related £310bn National Infrastructure Plan as a “list of projects” that lacks a “real plan with a strategic vision and clear priorities“ (here). Indeed, despite the promises, actual infrastructure spending has fallen by around 40% in the past year.

Never the less over half of the related Local Broadband Plan (LBP) contracts have now been signed, with BT’s help, and the rest are expected to be finalised by the end of summer (though some may slip into the autumn). As a result the focus has now begun to adopt a post-2015 perspective, which has previously lacked a clear broadband strategy.

More to follow.. just as soon as HM Treasury has fixed the broken document link.

UPDATE 11:30am

According to the official document (PDF), the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office will also be given greater “operational freedom and an enhanced delivery focus, and will be equipped with the commercial skills it needs to deliver a broadband programme” that will now extend to at least 2017. This seems to be what earlier reports were talking about when the idea of spinning-off BDUK was raised (here).

The document also talks about “exploring with industry how to expand coverage” to reach 99% by 2018 by “using more innovative fixed, wireless and mobile broadband solutions“. This really just means things like FTTC Vectoring (see yesterdays news), G.Fast, the on-going 4G network expansion, 5G development and making the best use of new soft-touch infrastructure construction rules and methods.

UPDATE 11:45am

Having read through the key parts of the document it’s clear that, as usual, a lot of the detail is missing. For example we still don’t know precisely how the extra £250 million will be spent (though it’s likely to be absorbed through BDUK’s revised structure). We’d like to see the details of this post-2015 strategy and right now that remains very vague.

UPDATE 12:30pm

ISPreview.co.uk has been trying hard to find out precisely where this £250m is actually coming from. Some £300m from the BBC TV Licence fee has already been pledged to the 2015-2017 period since 2010 but the new grand total investment of £1.2bn in “fixed” line superfast broadband (it use to total around £1bn with the urban broadband fund) does appear to suggest that this is an extra investment rather than a reduction on the previous £300m.

UPDATE 1:33pm

A comment from urban ISP Hyperoptic.

Dana Tobak, MD of Hyperoptic, said:

The announcement of a renewed government effort to propel the UK into the future by investing in broadband infrastructure is welcome news. Given the particular importance of TMT businesses in driving future economic growth, it is absolutely critical that the UK future proof its infrastructure beyond just roads and rail.

The UK is, in fact, significantly lagging when it comes to fibre-to-the-home access, with Spain, Italy and France all boasting greater penetration and availability of fibre connections, according to the FTTH Council Europe. It is also a widespread misconception that cities have the greatest universal access to the fastest broadband, when the reality is that long line lengths, exchange-only lines, and reliance on poor quality aluminium-based cabling frequently create ‘not spots’ and other serious connectivity issues.

Delivery of both speed and access in terms of broadband internet is essential to bringing the UK into the 21st century, and ensuring that it remains among the best places to live and work the world over. Clarity, consistency and commitment are what are most urgently needed when it comes to the roll-out of the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

Our sincere hope is that this effort will embrace new technologies and alternative commercial approaches, and reject the ‘one-size fits all’ mentality. The government’s indication that it will work more closely with industry to innovate in this area is a step in the right direction, but will certainly require looking beyond just the dominant industry players and the same old solutions.

Ensuring a truly competitive marketplace that meets the needs of consumers and businesses alike is paramount, and will enable Britain to take giant leap forward when it comes to connectivity and innovation.”

UPDATE 2:02pm

A tweet from the DCMS to Thinkbroadband has said that “today’s announcement reveals how £250m of the £300m is being targeted towards #superfastbroadband rollout“. So it’s not new money but rather, as feared, just a re-announcement of the previous £300m from the BBC TV Licence fee.

The wording also suggests that another £50m from the £300m total might be used for something else. Makes us wonder how they arrived at a total of £1.2bn for “fixed” superfast broadband.

UPDATE 3:14pm

BT has given us a statement below.

A BT Spokesperson said:

BT welcomes the government’s ambition to extend fibre broadband availability to 95 per cent of UK premises by 2017 and to go even further using a mix of technologies by 2018. Our commercial fibre roll out continues apace, with more than 15m premises having access to the technology today.

We’re also investing additional funds to extend fibre to rural areas by participating in the BDUK process and the first communities have started to get connected. As a result of BT’s efforts and the support of the public sector, the UK is making great progress with fibre. Nearly 70 per cent of all premises currently have access to fibre according to Ofcom. This places the UK ahead of other major European economies whilst it also boasts the fastest broadband speeds in the G8, after Japan.”

UPDATE 28th June 2013

Just in case it wasn’t already clear. The £250m (previously £300m) will be spent between 2015 (the first “nearly” 90% target) and 2017 (95% target), which is expected to help connect 1.4 million more homes and businesses to a fixed line superfast broadband service. This will most likely be delivered via BT’s network, unless the expected BDUK structure change results in a more open approach.

UPDATE 28th June 2013 – 10:05am

DCMS has told ISPreview.co.uk that the “missing” £50 million is still available in the pot but officially it hasn’t been allocated. Perhaps it will go towards helping the final 5% get connected? We’ll see.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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