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Home Builders Worried by High-Speed Ready Broadband Requirement

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 (8:59 am) - Score 1,615
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A senior member of the Home Builders Federation (HBF), whose members in England and Wales deliver around 80% of the new homes built each year, has warned that a new requirement for all new buildings to be “high-speed broadband ready” from 2017 onwards could “seriously damage” future construction.

The concern stems from new EU rules (here), which among other things require that “All new buildings – and those undergoing major renovation – for which applications for building permission have been submitted after 31 December 2016 must be high-speed ready.” On the surface this makes perfect sense because the best time to install new infrastructure is when a property is first being constructed.

Unfortunately it’s not always that simple, especially if the project concerns the construction of a new home in a remote rural area where the existing broadband connectivity has yet to be upgraded to be “high-speed” capable. Admittedly the requirement itself doesn’t define what “high-speed” actually means, although Europe generally references this alongside its Digital Agenda target of 30Mbps+ for all by 2020.

Never the less the 2020 goal (note: we strongly suspect that the UK will only achieve this a year or so after the deadline) is somewhat out of step with the 2017 requirement for home builders, which some see as unfair. Indeed if you’re just building a single house in a remote rural area, which has poor connectivity and probably won’t be upgraded to be 30Mbps+ capable until 2020 ish, then you’re a bit stuck (unless you spend £20k to £50k having a new leased line delivered to serve a single house? Hmm.. maybe not).

Dave Mitchell, Technical Director of the HBF, said (Cable):

We want to make sure that when a person moves in, superfast broadband is there. The fear I have is whether the UK will meet the dates the EU directive says we have to have it by.

What worries me is that there is a target. I’m yet to be reassured that Openreach will meet these targets. It’s not under my control. What can I as a homebuilder do about it? If service providers don’t meet that deadline, where can I go? If I’m buying land and say to Openreach, ‘have broadband ready by then,’ and they don’t, does that mean I have to get planning permission?

It can seriously damage the production of new homes from 2017 onwards.”

Admittedly some developers, such as the Berkeley Group, have already taken the initiative by becoming one of the first house builders to announced that it will seek to provide all new homes in the United Kingdom with “fibre optic broadband” infrastructure by 2016 (here). However it’s easier to find a solution for this when you’re building hundreds or thousands of new homes in a specific or urban area, where there’s really not much of an excuse (the economic case must allow room for such work), but smaller scale or individual rural developments might well face some of the problems that Mr Mitchell raises above.

On the other hand the new EU rules do appear to offer an exemption that should cover many of the above concerns. According to the relevant document, “Member states may provide for exemptions where this would lead to disproportionate costs and for specific types of building such as historic buildings and holiday homes.” One could say that building a few houses in a rural area where there’s no viable “high-speed” connectivity might well qualify for the above stated exemption, but there will surely be grey areas too.

At the same time it’s very important to recognise that BTOpenreach are no longer the only game in town. Some developers even have their own fibre optic setup or similar arrangements with alternative network providers, such as CityFibre, Gigaclear or Hyperoptic etc. Even Sky Broadband has done some FTTP developments with house builders, while Virgin Media have similar examples on their cable network.

Leave a Comment
17 Responses
  1. Avatar FibreFred

    Why would they be worried, you don’t have to wait for the commercial FTTC/P to be in the area, you can bring fibre from different suppliers almost anywhere in the UK, the developer of a building area can certainly afford that

    • Avatar dave

      If you are building a new home 1 mile away from the nearest home it would cost a fortune to have your home connected with FTTP. The concerns are definitely valid for rural areas.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Agreed without a doubt Dave , same goes for other utilities in that scenario

  2. Avatar TheFacts

    Does ‘ready’ mean anything more than a hole in a wall?

    • Avatar PhilT

      As well as ducting I would wire new homes with ethernet as one would an office – providing phone extensions if required via the centre 2 pins. A patch panel in a cupboard etc to mate up an incoming duct with a LAN to the likely TV, study, etc locations and maybe one in the loft with power for a wifi AP.

  3. Avatar RevK

    If I was a builder, I would run ducting from each building back to a comms hut, and say that it is “ready” for any telco to put in fibre, copper, coax, whatever they want.

  4. Avatar Chris Conder

    They can come and build anywhere in B4RNland. we can supply them with gigabit symmetrical broadband for as many homes as they like for £30 each inc VAT a month. Just sayin.

    • Avatar dragoneast

      Wonderful. I’m sure that lots of residents elsewhere would love to see their housing allocations built in B4RNland! Get ready for the country’s latest conurbation! Tower blocks: cram ’em in.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      So how do you think the local residents of B4RN would react to handling urban overspill round their nice villages? A nice 5,000 property estate anyone?

    • Given how long construction has taken to pass existing properties I’m not sure the community model would scale up too well.

      Obviously there’s also the issue of the developer expecting payment in return for exclusive access to the properties in question, and discussion on how/where ducting should be deployed, as a drop underground to each property won’t be an option and B4RN would be expected to deploy a swept-‘t’ construction.

      TLDR: Try talking to the people who design the network and calculated the financials before claiming that the model is infinitely scalable and appropriate for new-build construction almost 100% under roads and pavements via developer-provided ducting.

  5. Avatar DTMark

    It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to infer that Dave Mitchell has absolutely no confidence in BT to deliver on time or at all. But then they don’t have to use BT.

    Actually, I think this legislation is a well-meaning but somewhat daft idea. If someone wants to built a house in the middle of nowhere for some recluse that has no interest in the internet whatsoever, I don’t see why the lack of connectivity should be a barrier.

    But then you regularly read “I’ve moved to a new build estate and there’s nothing, only ADSL”. Have you forgotten what country this is? Didn’t you check? You are renting, aren’t you – you haven’t bought? Oops.

    That this inexcusably sad state of affairs exists in this country is a wider issue than just new build homes.

  6. Avatar Steve Jones

    This is creating a fuss over nothing. All that’s required is this to be codified into planning regulations, including the criteria where opt-outs are appropriate (e.g. too far to be supported by an existing NGA and too expensive to run fibre). We already have a planning system which can adjudicate on such matters. After all, builders are often already required to contribute to other aspects of local infrastructure (like roads). What’s so difficult about extending that to NGA infrastructure? For a development of any significant size, the costs will be relatively small, especially where fibre substitutes for copper. Note this only needs “gap funding”, not full cost.

    However, what Ofcom do need to make absolutely clear is that where a fibre infrastructure is in place, there is no requirement on OR to provide a copper network. Try as I might, I can find no such ruling. In fact the implication is that there is still a requirement to provide MPF on demand (withing reasonable costs). If Ofcom have made such a ruling, then I’d be grateful for a link (I do know an “all-fibre” trial has been approved for a tiny rural exchange, but that’s rather different as it’s limited).

    • The USO still applies however there’re the massive excess construction charges that would be incurred alongside the developer agreeing exclusivity agreements and refusing to permit Openreach to build on their developments which ensure that Openreach aren’t going to be building in any of these areas any time soon.

      Once the roads are adopted of course Openreach could either come along and build of their own volition or could wait for someone to order a copper line from them and agree to pay the costs bar the first £3400 of the deployment. That wouldn’t get very far when Openreach have zero infrastructure on the entire estate. A few metres of ducting and running out at the first chamber 🙂

  7. Avatar NewHomeOWner

    As somone who’s just bought a new house on a development in London, I can tell you, this means jack. The developers will do the bare minimum, for instant I completed and moved in to it in March, but we still don’t have *any* cable in the ground. Thank god for 4G! We can’t get a land line, we can’t get any DSL, FTT*, or any cable. To make things even more “fun” there are restrictive covenants that mean they won’t allow any form of antenna either, so wireless is a no go as well.

    This coupled with the fact that they do questionable work, and they don’t seem to care that you’re dropping 1/2 a mil on a property, means that the regulations, will mean jack.

    • Avatar GNewton

      Same here, a newly built estate a few miles away, and part of the district councils condition for its planning permission was that the developer had to provide fibre. Of course, the developer didn’t, and nobody will tear down the new buildings because there is no fibre 🙂

  8. Builders and Developers work for profit. Deployment needs to have commercial model. Property sold and rented must legally publish its energy performance why not “internet connectivity performance”? If developers had to publish “0Mb” connectivity than I suspect market forces would quickly drive the required investment. Government strategy should concentrate on facilitating market forces rather than trusting big business that have profit driven agendas ONLY.

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