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Home Builders Worried by High-Speed Ready Broadband Requirement

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 (8:59 am) - Score 1,620

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.

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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.
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