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Government and BT Deal to Put Superfast Broadband into UK New Builds

Friday, Feb 5th, 2016 (12:32 pm) - Score 2,839

The Government has today unveiled a new agreement with BT (Openreach) and the Home Builders Federation (HBF) that aims to deliver “fibre based” (FTTC/P/H) superfast or ultrafast broadband connectivity into new build properties across the United Kingdom, either for free or co-funded.

The announcement comes hot on the heels of recent criticism (here), which has seen both property developers and BT alike come under repeated fire for failing to ensure that new homes were being adequately equipped with phone lines and fast broadband connectivity. In some cases new home owners have been left to wait months for even a working phone connection.

However the problem isn’t universal and a number of developers, such as the Berkeley Group, have previously made commitments to ensure that their builds will be prepared for “fibre optic broadband” infrastructure by 2016 (here). Last year also saw the Government call on local authorities to consider the need for superfast broadband when judging planning applications for new developments (here).

In keeping with that a new European policy will soon require “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” (here). Suffice to say that today’s announcement is part of a much wider change of strategy towards new builds.

Summary of Today’s Key Agreements

* Fibre based broadband offered to all new developments either for free or as part of a co-funded initiative. The Government estimates that more than half of all new build properties can be connected to “fibre broadband” free of charge to developers.

* Openreach is introducing an online planning tool for homebuilders, which will tell them whether properties in a given development can be connected to fibre for free, or if a contribution is needed from the developer to jointly fund the deployment of the local fibre network.

* The housing industry will also be given access to a ‘rate card’ from Openreach, which details the fixed cost contributions required by homebuilders in those cases where joint funding is required. Openreach will make a significant contribution itself before seeking any funds from developers.

* HBF will promote and support uptake of the co-funding offer amongst their members, and emphasise the need to plan for connectivity early in the development.

Today’s news also represents something of a U-turn after a senior member of the HBF warned in 2014 that the EU requirement for all new buildings to be “high-speed broadband ready” from 2017 onwards could “seriously damage” future construction (here). The HBF in England and Wales represents around 80% of the new homes built each year.

Ed Vaizey, Digital Economy Minister, said:

“The Government’s ambition to build 1 million new homes over the course of this Parliament will house families and future generations to come. Broadband connectivity is just one thing that home buyers now expect when buying a new build, so this industry-led push to make superfast, or indeed ultrafast, broadband speeds available by default in new homes represents a very important step in meeting the UK’s digital needs.”

Clive Selley, CEO Openreach, said:

“This is an important step towards bringing fibre broadband to as many new build properties as possible.

We recognise that high speed broadband connectivity is a major factor for homeowners when deciding to buy a house. That’s why we’re offering to deliver fibre to all new build developments either for free or as a co-funded model.

With the support of the HBF we’ve delivered a series of measures to give developers greater clarity, choice and more funding. Today’s announcement underlines Openreach’s commitment to further extend its fibre network – which reaches more than 24m premises – to benefit even more communities across the country.”

Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of the HBF, said:

“Housebuilders are constantly striving to deliver on and surpass the expectations of customers as we continue to see housing supply grow. Broadband speeds are an increasingly important factor in the home buying process and this offer to developers will see more new build purchasers benefit from the very best connectivity to go alongside the many other advantages of purchasing a brand new home.”

It’s worth noting that the Government defines “New Site Housing Developments” as being two or more new premises on the same site including single dwelling units (houses) and multiple dwelling units (flats/apartment blocks), which should reduce the pressure on builds of individual homes where the financial costs of upgrading a single property’s local infrastructure might make the project too expensive.

Otherwise the Government appears to be playing catch-up with a policy that should ideally have been established a few years ago, alongside the national Broadband Delivery UK framework. Better late than never.

However we would like to know what model Openreach will use when deciding if “properties in a given development can be connected to fibre for free,” not least since we’ve seen various examples where an area was classed as being “commercially unviable” despite there being ample local demand.

Apparently the new approach will be “closely” monitored over the next year to see how it performs.

UPDATE:

In case it wasn’t clear, the property developers don’t have to use a service specifically from Openreach if they don’t want too (a number of utility suppliers like IFNL / GTC can supply FTTP networks).

Equally there’s no guarantee that those in a co-funded situation will be able to reach a deal with Openreach, in which case they’d only get a basic copper broadband service. Developments that are most likely to benefit from a “free” upgrade would need to fall within Openreach’s existing FTTC/P footprint or be building more than 250 properties.

Openreach has revealed a lot more detail as part of the this briefing.

What is a Connectivity Assessment?

The Connectivity Assessment is a new service that allows a developer to receive an upfront assessment of the likely broadband connectivity and speeds for their development.

We recommend that developers apply for a Connectivity Assessment, at least ten months before the first occupancy date. This service will be completed by Openreach at a given point in the process but can also be requested directly by a developer at any time and the first Connectivity Assessment for each development site is provided free of charge.

From today, all new sites registered can benefit from the Connectivity Assessment. It has been designed to allow a quick turnaround, so that developers can quickly make the right decision for their business and customers. It will provide:

* Confirmation of whether or not the site is covered by existing FTTC infrastructure, which will be connected for free. New Infrastructure is required to serve new sites of 100 or more new homes in all cases as such these are deemed outside of existing coverage.

* The option of new Fibre Broadband Infrastructure based on a Developer Contribution (if applicable and where there is no existing infrastructure)

* Clarity and certainty of the costs to connect a site outside of existing Fibre coverage

* The expected broadband speed range based on copper infrastructure, should the developer not wish to take up the option of FTTC infrastructure.

What happens if the developer decides that they don’t want Openreach to install fibre infrastructure?

If the housing development is already covered by our existing fibre broadband network, this will be automatically available to homebuyers and developers need not do anything further. However, if a new fibre broadband network isn’t required by the developer, we’ll not proceed fibre and we’ll connect the developer’s site to the existing copper network.

We have had a lot of feedback from developers and the HBF that for many new home buyers, broadband speed is one of the big influencers when making a house purchase. This is particularly key if they intend to work from home, or have many devices connected at the same time; perhaps with multiple family members using the same connection.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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