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UPDATE Labour Party Activists Seek 1Gbps Nationwide Broadband by 2020

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014 (4:06 pm) - Score 1,450

Impossible promise or inevitable reality. The British Labour party has effectively kicked off their 2015 General Election campaign today by seeming to support new proposals from the Labour Digital group, which demands a “national focus on connectivity” that will deliver 1000Mbps (1Gbps) broadband to all homes and offices, with 10Gps connections for business hubs like Tech City.

The activists report contains no less than 82 proposals for the party’s future digital policy, which are said to cost around £10bn to implement over a five year period by 2020. Apparently these “ideas” and others contained in the report were crowd-sourced online by Labour Digital’s 300+ members following a launch event addressed by Baronness Lane (Martha Lane Fox) in March 2014.

At this stage it’s not clear which of the “ideas” will be adopted, although we’ve highlighted the broadband and Internet access related ones below. A separate report on the BBC suggests that the 1Gbps commitment will form part of an official policy announcement, although this has yet to be confirmed.

Labour Digital’s – Internet and Broadband Proposals

5. The UK should target nationwide access to 1Gbps broadband in homes, businesses and public buildings, with 10Gbps services for tech-clusters, as early possible in the next parliament. It is only through universal access to world class internet facilities that the economic and social benefits of the digital economy can be captured by all citizens. Although fixed line is the primary mechanism for broadband deployment, Government should also embrace wireless and satellite mechanisms where necessary to speed delivery of its targets.

6. Ofcom should use its regulatory powers to ensure that the entire UK is provided with reliable network coverage of at least 3G speeds, including all populated coastal and rural areas.

7. In ensuring mobile and community connectivity, a future government should require transport providers to offer reliable, blanket WiFi across their services. It should also require Network Rail to open access to its own mobile network (used exclusively by train staff) to passengers. In doing so, barriers to entry into the digital economy will be lowered, particularly for those individuals and businesses reliant on mobility and travel.

8. Furthermore, local councils should be resourced and encouraged to develop and expand existing public space WiFi networks to provide free internet access across public spaces, guaranteeing access to citizens and businesses in population centres. Councils would produce a yearly monitor of usage and impact to demonstrate the value generated in their local economies and communities.

9. The next government should update the ECC according to the reforms proposed by the Law Commission. This would update the Code in the light of 21st century developments and ensure the treatment of broadband infrastructure as a traditional utility and streamline the ability of network providers and landowners to reach agreements on the access to private property.

10. With the European Parliament voting to adopt a net neutrality proposal that will restrict ISP charges for faster internet access, a Labour government should declare support for national and EU-level net neutrality.

13. Furthermore, to ensure fair and universal access to the application of digital skills, government should assess the viability of providing free basic internet access to all citizens, possibly as a requirement for participation in 5G auctions or targeted at children eligible for free school meals.

So to recap, 1Gbps for everybody, free “basic Internet” access for all citizens (possibly as part of the future 5G auction – we can’t see commercial mobile operators jumping at that idea) and perhaps a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband services so that they’re treated like a “traditional utility” (gas, water, electric etc.).

Some of the ideas, such as for universal 3G coverage, better public WiFi access, support for Net Neutrality and possibly even a broadband USO, seem to be potentially feasible approaches for the future. But others read more like a kids Christmas list, where the child asks for a real Ferrari even though they’ll probably only get a plastic model (unless you’re the son or daughter of a multi-billionaire).

Not that we wouldn’t welcome a policy that proposes to make Gigabit broadband services available to everybody in the country, in fact that would be amazing! But practical and economic realities have a tendency to become party poopers once “ideas” are required to be taken seriously and put through proper feasibility tests.

For example, you’d likely need a lot more than £10bn to roll-out a Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) network nationwide. It’s possible that match-funding might get you to the needed £20bn+ but that’s assuming anybody, even BT, could or would want do that in the first place (BT had enough trouble getting shareholders to release £3bn for FTTC and a little FTTP).

On the other hand new methods of deploying such services have since surfaced that can reduce the civil engineering costs significantly, although we still think that such a commitment would have more merit if it came alongside a significantly bigger allocation of public funding.

On top of that there’s no way that FTTH could be deployed to 100% of the country, assuming this is what the policy actually calls for, by 2020. Firstly you have to allow time to re-design a replacement Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) process and that’s not going to be easy, then you have to go through the tender process and sort out funding.

Once all is said and done we’d already be into 2016/17 and you’ll certainly need more than the 3 remaining years to deploy FTTH nationwide (10-15 might be more realistic). Meanwhile what happens to the existing BDUK roll-out? Remote rural areas might be left to wait considerably longer if the dominant technology suddenly switches from FTTC to FTTH.

So while we’d welcome a commitment to deliver 1Gbps broadband for all and 10Gbps in so-called “tech-clusters“, in order to be credible such a pledge would need to be matched with a much larger pot of public investment and given an appropriate timescale for completion (2030+ perhaps).

A Labour Government would then have to consider the very real market implications, especially for competition. Giving all the money to BT isn’t going to go down well when you have TalkTalk, Sky Broadband, Virgin Media, CityFibre, Hyperoptic and so forth pushing hundreds of millions of private investment into the same area. The approach would need to be more inclusive than BDUK has been and that’s going to become very complicated.

NOTE: The current Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme aims to make fixed superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds available to 95% of the country by 2017, with the potential to reach 100% by around 2020 with the allocation of future funding. So far this has gobbled up around £1.7bn of public money, both from the central government and local councils.

UPDATE 25th September 2014

Below is a comment from fibre optic ISP Hyperoptic.

Dana Tobak, Managing Director of Hyperoptic, said:

Hyperoptic welcomes proposals from the Labour Digital group for nationwide access to gigabit broadband. With investment in Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) there are immediate employment opportunities to build the infrastructure, and long term economic and social benefits to be gained from having future-proofed connectivity, which enables businesses and consumers to take advantage of all the internet has to offer.

The UK is the most internet-based major economy, but unlike many other developed countries, it is lacking a clear FTTP development program. Hyperoptic is leading the charge for gigabit connectivity in the UK and is expanding its footprint rapidly across the UK – we would welcome Government support to further fast-track the expansion of gigabit broadband.”

Leave a Comment
24 Responses
  1. Avatar adslmax says:

    Labour will stand no chance to win next general election because labour lost all the power in Scotland.

  2. Avatar Jeremy says:

    More alternative networks are indeed needed to drive competition. Mobile and wireless should also be available everywhere in a digital country. Ridiculous to imagine they or satellite could deliver NGA though. The Labour Party are probably consulting the same idiots who formed BDUK in the first place. What is needed is to harness the power of communities, support altnets and drive innovation backed up with fibre backbones with affordable feeds. Not the current paltry dribble through telephone exchanges nor the sad little under supplied cabinets with their silly fibre stickers on. We really do need a government who understands digital. The last two certainly haven’t.

  3. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    Why bother coming up with policies that just can’t be delivered due to basic, practical considerations such as the amount of labour required to get to a run rate of over 500k premises connected to FTTP a month? Possibly closer to 1m premises a month if the procurement, planning etc takes more than the first year of the next parliament? And that’s before the small matters such as financing and state aid are sorted out!

    This shows why we have far too many politicians with little or no experience of real jobs, and virtually none with engineering or technical skills. Some have worked in the public sector, others in consultancy and public affairs, after that you start to struggle.

    So we end up with this sort of half baked nonsense that just makes it obvious that they really are clueless when it comes to practicalities. Fair enough to have a vision and an ambitious target, but a little bit of effort to show it is at least plausible would make a big difference.

    Still I’m sure there will be lots of positive noises from the FTTP lobby, the self-appointed “FTTH Council of Europe” etc. JFDI etc! I just hope they don’t squander huge amounts of our limited tax monies on this before they work out a more realistic target is required.

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      I agree, the joules per bit delivered would be nonsense. But a million lines a year transition where the cost recovery regime is adjusted to accommodate would work. Changes in planning laws to ensure refubs and new buildings are engineered for pro-competitive fibre access is also needed. There is a signficant amount of businesses with fibre access so there is room to find the correct formula.

    2. Avatar GNewton says:

      “I just hope they don’t squander huge amounts of our limited tax monies on this before they work out a more realistic target is required.”

      Let’s start with scrapping the wasteful BDUK where hundreds of Millions of taxpayer’s money were wasted with this beggar known as BT who never had any need for it, because it is private company who look after itself.

    3. Avatar Gadget says:

      Lets just remember here that before BDUK (whatever your views on its implementation)there was no plans by ANYONE to provide service in the short to medium term.
      So is it unreasonable that any successful bidder would want money to provide service – nothing to do with begging.

    4. Avatar GNewton says:

      “Lets just remember here that before BDUK (whatever your views on its implementation)there was no plans by ANYONE to provide service in the short to medium term.”

      Yes, there were. BT for example planned to cover 2/3 of the country with commnercial VDSL services, without taxpayer’s money. And would have probably increased this coverage as well over the years. And then there are plenty of altnets doing fibre builds, even at times in rural areas. Not to forget various long-distance wireless services in many rural areas and small towns. And lets not forget how the BDUK can sometimes become a tax-funded competition to potential commercial providers, especially in view of the fact that many counties or local authorities hide behind dubious commercial confidentialty clauses preventing other providers to find out what areas they could cover with a reasonable ROI.

  4. Avatar James Harrison says:

    There’s a big difference between 100% FTTP and targeting 1G. We should be targeting 1G, not 80M or 30M or 24M, for anything we’re doing new – especially anything funded by government. So while it might seem like wishful thinking it’s a good policy direction to go in. Of course, they need to actually get their shit together with regards to procurement and commercial nous, but that’s more the civil service than ministers…

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Why 1G and not 500M or 2G?

    2. Avatar James Harrison says:

      Because targeting 1G implies FTTP. Once fibre is in the ground between an ISP network and an individual property, they’re future-proofed. The only subsequent investment required to upgrade to, say, 10G is to change the electronics on each end. No digging required. I’m on FTTP and I can get a 10G uncontended connection out here in the middle of nowhere _already_ if I wanted to put a datacentre here. It’s expensive at the moment, but it’s certainly not unfeasible, and nobody needs to dig up my drive and the roads again.

      The key point is – new builds should be FTTP. New government funding should be for FTTP. Ploughing endless amounts of cash into FTTC to target purely rural areas is a mistake. FTTC may be sensible in towns and cities and funding that roll-out is something that may be appropriate. Rural areas, because they are less commercially viable to future development, should be done with a technology that has a useful upgradeable lifespan greater than, say, 25 years – they won’t get funded for at least that long again…

  5. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    Without a (realistically costed) plan on how this might all be achieved in an economically sustainable way it’s just so much vapour-ware. If it involves a lot of public money then there are any number of legal hurdles to overcome in the overbuilding of existing networks. It’s not just BT. It’s VM and the LLU operators, all of whom have significant investments tied up. If they are undercut by a publicly subsidised fibre infrastructure, then expect problems in the courts.

    Also, £10bn is simply ridiculous. The Broadband Stakeholder’s report on the subject estimate £25bn. If you go look at the Australian NBN, that got incredibly expensive and had to be scaled back in its ambitions massively as it ran into huge financial and logistical problems (and before people say it, it wasn’t anything like a 100% fibre coverage – the remote communities were not to be serviced that way).

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      I look forward to answers to each of your points. Do people propose a full overbuild of the VM network?

    2. Avatar GNewton says:

      Don’t feel sorry for the LLU providers, they knew about the risks in investing on yesterday’s DSL technologies. You don’t overbuild networks, you REPLACE copper with fibre, that’s where things went wrong in the UK, especially with BT!

    3. Avatar TheFacts says:

      You may remember that BT wanted to but the government would not let them.

    4. Avatar GNewton says:

      “You may remember that BT wanted to but the government would not let them.”

      So what prevents BT from offering TV streaming services over fibre now? Things are different today, and there is nothing to prevent them to start building fibre networks!

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Cost Newton cost,how many times ? They have already started ( and finished for now I guess ) deploying ftth they have the largest coverage in the uk

    6. Avatar GNewton says:

      “Cost Newton cost,how many times ?”

      Isn’t that a bit hypocritical to have that mentioned by you? Because you had no objections of wasting hundreds of Millions of taxpayer’s money via the BDUK farce, giving it to a single private company (BT) who had no need for it?

      The issue isn’t cost. More money is wasted on e.g. HS2 (see e.g. http://www.zdnet.com/why-hs2-not-ftth-the-uk-is-spending-42-6bn-on-rails-instead-of-optical-fibres-7000017873/). Rather, it is the wrong policy, bulding multiple concurrent networks instead of gradually REPLACING copper with fibre. The longterm costs with the current VDSL farce which eventually has to be upgraded to fibre will be higher than doing pure fibre from the beginning.

    7. Avatar FibreFred says:

      You said what is preventing BT , I said cost and then you post about government spending , what was your question do you even know yourself ?

  6. Avatar No Clue says:

    Time for politicians to start promising all types of undelivered carp with the May 2015 elections fast approaching. Next weeks announcement will be we are all going to be millions of pounds richer, Subject of course to voting for the right clueless lying MP come election time. Free Virgin space shuttle rides along with supery-dupery-loopey fast next, next, next gen broadband for all could also be a good bout of brain wind to gain the stupid society element vote.

  7. Avatar Bob2002 says:

    Labour’s activist’s proposals are important because they promote the issue of nationwide FTTP in the political arena of the major parties, especially if this becomes part of a policy announcement(which would surprise me). Let’s face it the Conservatives would only provide you with a national network of string and rusty tin cans by the year 2200.

    I think we can afford a national FTTH network as long as it’s rolled out over a reasonable number of years.

    1. Avatar No Clue says:

      Ironically we have got more broadband wise with the conservatives than what Labours original “next gen” broadband plans were. I guess they are upset so have come up with a new hot air never gets of the ground bunch of 1Gb talk.

  8. Avatar TheFacts says:

    How about somebody defining a national FTTP network and how it fits in with the current networks from 100 various companies.

    1. Avatar GNewton says:

      Do your homework!

  9. Avatar Phil Coates says:

    You can bet your bottom dollar that if this pipedream comes to fruition it will not begin in the areas where even BDUK has failed to help, but in the urban centres.

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