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CBI Demands Urgent Action to Fast Track UK Gigabit Broadband

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 (8:54 am) - Score 1,194
fibre optical broadband uk network cable

A new report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has warned that the UK Government must take “urgent action” and “fast track [new] laws” in order to ensure the delivery of its aspiration to achieve nationwide coverage of future 5G mobile by 2027 and “full fibre” (FTTP) Gigabit broadband ISP networks by 2033.

At present almost everything seems to have become understandably overshadowed by the current chaos surrounding all things Brexit. The CBI appears to be concerned that this is also starting to distract from the need to make other important decisions in the area of domestic policy, particularly around broadband and mobile.

The report – Ready, Set, Connect (PDF) – warns that without quicker Government action on funding and policy in 2019, firms of all sizes will be “at risk of losing their competitive edge internationally” and could thus be placed “in danger of buffering“.

Broadly speaking the new report appears to support the approach that is currently being taken by the Government (see below), although they’re concerned that the UK is still moving too slowly and have made a series of recommendations to encourage greater progress.

Matthew Fell, CBI UK Chief Policy Director, said:

“In today’s world, digital connectivity matters more than ever – if data is the new oil, then digital connectivity is the pipe that transports it. Seamless connections, from full fibre networks to 5G, offer unprecedented opportunities for businesses and consumers across the UK.

Our country is already home to hundreds of thousands of innovative technological firms, both start-ups and large enterprises. Business models and workplaces are changing, and more people are either working from a coffee shop, their home or office. They are the backbone of our economy and they all rely on fast and reliable digital connectivity to run their businesses successfully.

Action needs to be taken now to unleash our digital economy which is already worth nearly £184 billion. This means the Government must unlock investment, update the law to help everyone get access to gigabit broadband and spur businesses to adopt new technologies.”

For its part the Government’s recent Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) has already set out what further changes need to be made in order to facilitate their future “full fibre” and 5G mobile plans. The telecoms regulator, Ofcom, then immediately followed this up with a related consultation on the necessary regulation changes (here).

Since then a further £200m of public funding has also been committed to help “full fibre” broadband ISP networks to reach into rural areas (Budget 2018). On top of that two new consultations (here and here) have been launched that aim to help mandate gigabit‑capable broadband connections for new build homes. All of this is on top of earlier changes, such as the 5 year business rates holiday on new fibre and various funding schemes.

Nevertheless the CBI has called on the Government to “fast track” their plans and in some other areas, such as business rates, they’re seeking further action.

Step 1: Deliver digital connectivity at a digital pace – accelerate barrier busting plans to unlock investment and drive rollout

1. Give communication service providers better access to private land

• Fast-track legislation to mandate gigabit connectivity in new builds and access to tenant properties in 2019.

• Streamline access to private land and support consistency by disseminating standardised wayleave agreements in 2019.

2. Ease the planning restrictions on new infrastructure at pace

• Review digital infrastructure planning permission, ensuring that future telecoms infrastructure falls under permitted development. This review should consult devolved nations to achieve harmonisation in planning laws across the UK.

3. Conduct a review of the business rates system including productivity-enhancing investments

• This should examine the economic impact of excluding digital infrastructure from business rates as an investment to enhance UK productivity.

Step 2: Lead the way in making the UK a top-tier connected nation – through bold, cross-government action

4. Commit to delivering the funding necessary for the ‘outside in’ programme to deliver full fibre across the UK – within the Comprehensive Spending Review

• Set out funding mechanisms and a delivery programme for the ‘outside in’ programme. The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review estimated this would cost at least £3-5bn. Ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the CBI will be undertaking analysis on the full cost of this policy commitment.

Ofcom and government should deliver the regulatory framework set out in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review in 2019, committing to incentivising infrastructure competition.

5. Make integrated infrastructure a national priority by fitting all new transport infrastructure with full fibre and 5G infrastructure

• Join up infrastructure development by creating a cross-departmental Fibre and 5G Taskforce to put the right policy in place for government infrastructure projects to be built with full fibre infrastructure – prioritising large-scale road and rail projects and including MHCLG, BEIS, DCMS, DfT and HMT.

6. Make the public sector a leading customer for digital infrastructure improvements

• Government must be an ‘anchor customer’ for 5G and full fibre by upgrading the digital infrastructure on public sector buildings and reusing public sector assets (including street lights, ducts and buildings) for digital infrastructure. The DCMS Barrier Busting Taskforce should continue to support councils in this.

7. Commit to supporting mobile networks as strongly as fibre networks

• Government must support public funding to help address enduring rural mobile not-spots, barrier busting for 4G and 5G rollout, and continue spurring the development of 5G use cases.

Step 3: Set the framework for business adoption of digital connectivity

8. Support greater business adoption of available digital connectivity

• Increase the funding pot for the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme and continue the DCMS campaign to support voucher uptake.

• Extend the BEIS Business Basics Fund to support business adoption of 4G and gigabit-capable broadband.

9. Help businesses prepare for 5G adoption by raising business awareness of 5G

• Share best practice from the government-funded 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, through UK5G, the Digital Catapult and Innovate UK.

• Make the new 5G sector testbeds open to all businesses within the sector, to be delivered through the Catapult Network.

• Raise the profile of existing available testbeds to encourage businesses in all sectors to access the facilities.

• LEPs to better utilise Openreach digital connectivity postcode checker – so consumers and businesses can check what digital connectivity options are available.

The CBI’s suggestion that digital infrastructure should be excluded from business rates is an interesting one, although we can’t see it happening. So far the Government appears to have shunned the idea of extending the current business rates holiday on new fibre (not doing this seems to be incompatible with their current goals) and so in the current climate it seems highly unlikely that they’d go even further than that.

Meanwhile the idea of standardised wayleave agreements across the UK has plenty of merit and progress in some parts of the country is already being made, such as around London and the recent CLA/NFU rural wayleave framework for fibre networks. But getting a single standardised system adopted everywhere will still be difficult and probably won’t happen as quickly as the CBI would like.

The current situation with respect telecoms operators and rental payments as a result of the reformed Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which for example has resulted in mobile operators pushing their way into buildings to install new mobile kit alongside miniscule rental payments (e.g. £7-£50 per year instead of several thousand), is an example of how difficult it is to find the right balance (here).

Finally, the CBI has set out a time-scale roadmap for what they’ve proposed.

cbi_broadband_roadmap

Just a quick apology that I didn’t spot this report sooner. Unfortunately it was released on Saturday and we didn’t get a press release about it, which meant it flew under our radar until today.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
10 Responses
  1. Avatar Meadmodj

    Government/Ofcom have already outlined similar. The issue is who pays for it. This is simply a plea for more public funding.

    We already have schemes and businesses can get Fibre from a number of providers. Businesses that are to be totally dependant on Giga speeds or above should locate themselves appropriately and treat broadband as they would any other resource they need for their business. Or are they saying we should start to subsidise 3 phase electricity.

    The provision of services should be part of the assessment of location, not an after thought and especially subsidised by the taxpayer. Current funding schemes are already going to the wrong people.

    Public funds should be directed where there is no FoD presence (any provider) and where it is needed for social inclusion not to provide extra profit for commercial organisations.

    • Avatar Joe

      “subsidise 3 phase electricity.”

      I know some in the micro generation solar/hydro or farmers etc who think you should.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      I wouldn’t assume that connecting 3 phase power is simple even in some areas of London.

      We have been involved in any number of projects where there is a 3 phase cable to the premises with two phases connected. Sometimes there are only two phases run down a street, yes really – as they were alternating phases down grids of streets.

      The costs for getting a 3 phase connections are often extraordinary and makes putting a leased line in look like small change. And the timescales make OR look like greased lightening. That last sentence give you some insight into the pain that is caused.

  2. Avatar DL

    FYI – many of the spaces in text copied from the PDF (para 3 and the Matthew Fell pull-quote) haven’t translated to spaces when pasted into your CMS, so you’ve got quite a few pairs of words concatenated.

  3. Avatar Optimist

    I’d like to see ISPs publishing proposals to roll out hyperfast broadband but subject to assured access and removal of taxes on infrastructure. The onus will then be on the public to lobby their MPs.

  4. Avatar Web Dude

    I;d like to see HS2 stopped ASAP and the money put into faster broadband for all… rather than a vanity project of high(er) speed trains when the rail infrastructure could do with a load of work (so rather than have to purchase lots of land for completely new and unnecessary lines, they could add tracks and points to allow for faster trains to whistle past slower (freight) trains and increase overall capacity without having to do loads of tunnelling work to cope with it… just making there be more options for “overtaking” the slow freight / passenger trains on long (non-tunnel) stretches would actually be enough…

    (Oh, and while I am not a train/ transport expert, I know someone who is, and has been involved with rail and other transport projects all his working life, advisor to Dept of Transport, and many other governments worldwide).

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