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Government Sets Out Strategic Priorities for UK Broadband and Mobile

Friday, February 15th, 2019 (12:13 pm) - Score 3,639
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The Government has today set out its first ever Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) for UK mobile and broadband services, which requires Ofcom to reflect in their work the need to build “world-class digital infrastructure“, look at mobile roaming in rural areas and tackle the so-called “loyalty penalty” etc.

The new SSP, which is a legal mechanism that was formally introduced for telecommunications services as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017, broadly seeks to support the Government’s existing objectives. This includes their aim to extend geographic mobile coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022, a desire to cover the “majority” of the country with 5G mobile by 2027 and to ensure that 15 million premises are covered by Gigabit-capable “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband ISP networks by 2025 (rising to nationwide coverage by 2033).

The core components of this were set out in last year’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) and related consultations from Ofcom (5G auctions / spectrum sharing and full fibre). As a result today’s Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) largely reflect that on-going work.

The Strategic Priorities

● 1: World-class digital infrastructure
The Government’s commitment to world-class digital infrastructure for the UK, reflecting the conclusions of the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review.

● 2: Furthering the interests of telecoms consumers
The Government’s commitment to safeguarding the interests of telecoms consumers, including the vulnerable and less engaged, by ensuring they are better informed and protected.

● 3: Secure and resilient telecoms infrastructure
The Government’s commitment to ensuring the UK’s telecoms networks and services are secure and resilient.

● 4: Postal services
The Government’s commitment to a universal postal service and need for industry and Ofcom to work together to secure the long-term sustainability of the sector.

As part of this Ofcom will also be expected to “examine” the costs and benefits of options to introduce mobile roaming in rural areas in a bid to improve consumer choice and tackle partial not-spots (areas where at least one operator is present, but all four are not). They’ll also need to ensure that regulation supports investment in reliable Gigabit-capable broadband networks.

The SSPs further require Ofcom to tackle the so-called loyalty penalty, which sees loyal customers who do not shop around typically paying higher prices than more savvy consumers. “The combined effect of the loyalty penalty incurred by customers of broadband and mobile is £1.3 billion per year,” said the Government as it warned of “new legislation if the regulator believes it does not have sufficient powers.”

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently concluded a “super-complaint” into the loyalty penalty issue and made several recommendations (here). Ofcom are already in the process of introducing measures to help tackle this (e.g. notification letters) and they’ve recently launched a review of broadband ISP pricing to account for the CMA’s concerns (here).

Jeremy Wright, DCMS Secretary of State, said:

“As the UK’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom has a critical role in realising our shared connectivity aspirations for the UK. As well as ensuring the necessary improvements to broadband and mobile services, consumers must also be protected. I urge Ofcom to tackle harmful business practices and remove barriers to switching.”

Andrew Glover, Chair of the Internet Services Providers’ Association, said:

“The Statement of Strategic Priorities is an important step in helping our members understand the UK Government’s priorities for the sector and how Ofcom will exercise its regulatory functions.

ISPA welcomes the fact that the UK Government has reiterated its support for reducing the costs and barriers to deployment of FTIR. This has been a longstanding priority for ISPA members, so it is encouraging to see this commitment reflected in the report. ISPA also echoes the views outlined about cross platform switching. ISPA wants to ensure that switching processes are easy, reliable and transparent, and ISPA looks forward to further detail on how Ofcom intends to achieve this.

Ofcom’s aim to tackle harmful practices and to improve the support available to consumers is supported by ISPA. It is understandable that Ofcom have proposed to tackle the loyalty penalty within the scope of this aim. However, it is important to ensure that the loyalty penalty is not a blanket regulation that conflates loyal with less engaged customers. It is incorrect to assume that customer loyalty is solely based on inertia, and any attempt to tackle the loyalty penalty needs to demonstrate that Ofcom has a well-rounded understanding of all consumers. ISPA therefore believes the loyalty penalty should be proportionate and targeted to those in need of help.

Finally, ISPA would like to see more detail about the form in which the ‘Outside In’ strategy will take, especially how it will align with the Universal Service Obligation.

ISPA is currently working with its members to explore a range of possibilities about how to respond to this report including through a formal response.”

The new SSPs essentially bring the legislative framework for Ofcom into line with other sectors, such as energy and water, for the first time. On the other hand they broadly reflect work that is already on-going and don’t contain much in the way of new surprises.

Details of the related consultation can be found here and this is open to feedback until 27th March 2019.

UPDATE 4:48pm

Added the ISPA’s comment above.

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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.
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12 Responses
  1. Avatar mr Ian Aitken

    Fluff, would class infrastructure?

    Meaningless drivel

    What are you actually going to do, what equipment are you going to buy, how are you going to do it, what contracts and how much is going to be spent

    • Avatar CarlT

      Not sure anyone said anything about the public sector building the networks so it’s not really up to Government to lay out what the private operators are going to be building?

      Not least because the equipment available in 2019 is likely not going to be desirable by 2033.

      The private sector is likely to hit the 15 million premises passed by 2025 target on condition the regulatory environment is supportive. Zero reason for HMG to purchase anything, they just need to allow Openreach to retire copper and not be too anal over price controls.

    • Yep most of the targets for 2025 (5G, FTTP) are largely reflective of private sector investment, alongside supportive regulatory and legislative mechanisms / changes. It’s only when you get to less economically viable areas that public funding begins to become more of a requirement.

  2. Avatar Meadmodj

    Previous and current decisions have not delivered the first three points so what miraculously is going to change.

    World-class digital infrastructure
    – Various technologies being utilised (even within FTTP) so it will be a postcode lottery how world-class it will be in a given location.

    Furthering the interests of telecoms consumers
    – Access and cost of basic broadband increasing in real terms particularly for those on low or restricted incomes (prices by RPI against Pensions/Benefits by CPI as well higher entry level products coming with FTTP)
    – Ultrafast/Giga monopolies being created in some areas

    Secure and resilient telecoms infrastructure
    – Network topologies and their associated power supplies that have single points of failure which may affect large geographical areas

    • Avatar CarlT

      If I’m reading this right you expect a description of ‘world-class’ infrastructure, right down to which topology of FTTP is chosen, price controls based around the lowest income customers, rising alongside welfare payments on whichever is lower of CPI and RPI, no infrastructure monopoly anywhere and that networks are fully redundant at the physical layer?

      Going by my experience today I’d suggest the nation has better things to spend my taxes on than subsidising FTTP to such an extent – which is what would be needed to tick all those boxes.

      The Openreach GPON network, field upgradable to XGPON, would be fine for world-class. It’s the standard for right now 🙂

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      No, my point is that politicians should be honest and not proport to be doing something they are clearly not.

      Some options may have longer life but a world-class definition will constantly change and is of no use if it is either not available or affordable to significant percentages of the population.

    • Avatar Nobroadband

      In my area they are failing on all 4 points.
      No usable broadband, mobile signal is so intermittent as being unusable and now the post is not being delivered to the door.
      Everyday I see more red post bags hanging off gate posts and farm tracks due to safety, the vans might slip if they got to brake!

  3. Avatar Greg

    One of the real problems is with the lack of competition with fttp you have got bt as the main opperater whereas most other isps only offer fttc at the moment and perhaps when bt remove all their copper cables which they plan to do real competition will start

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      It is BT’s copper that is currently keeping us afloat and may be the only competition to contain FTTP pricing for the next 15 years. If you would like ISP choice then Ofcom will need to impose the same obligations on other providers as they do on OR.

      As for competition, BT’s prices are set based on shareholder return and investment bloated by historically high overheads. All the other ISPs then set their pricing accordingly. The price of UK broadband is not directly based on the cost of its provision.

      The current Government direction (via Ofcom) is one of varying geographical pricing, speed availability, quality of service and resilience.

  4. Avatar davidj

    The forgot a few of their Strategic Priorities

    5. Hide all the pron from everyone, sex is disgusting, procreation should be left to the storks dropping babies from the sky.
    6. Wrap little billybob in cotton wool if he gets a message which calls him a name, because otherwise he may cry and make the 10 oclock news.
    7. Block and ban content as we wish, Example… Snowflakes will need to go to the library to find the top 10 methods to kill/harm thereself. No more learning how to tie knots for that noose online, images of knots/nooses are too graphic… but only in digital form.
    8. Delete all social media which makes the government look stupid, we estimate this to be around 85%, the other 15% of self indulged selfie takers are fine as long as the images are not graphic, we will judge what graphic is and may ban the other 15%.
    9. Copyright everything in exchange for monies from the media industry, we can then claim we are fostering creativity.
    10. Any improvement to any service we may claim is all down to our long meetings and policies rather than providers actually spending their own money on networks.

    Welcome to mid 2020’s

    • Avatar dragoneast

      or to summarise: we’ll do whatever makes us look good, in our own eyes. Haven’t they always? If that means the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, none of them could care less.

  5. Avatar Guy Cashmore

    If copper is dead by 2033, I wonder when BT/OR will stop installing new copper to new premises? Can’t be long away..

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