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Spend £5bn of Public Money on Full Fibre Broadband? Yeah No Probs

Monday, February 18th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 3,869
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The latest online survey of 2,110 ISPreview.co.uk readers has found that 65.9% of UK respondents think spending up to £5bn of taxpayers money to ensure nationwide coverage of “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband by 2033 is a better bet than putting the same money toward public services. But most people expect a long wait.

The survey, which was conducted between 2nd January and 14th February 2019, found that most respondents do not expect to see “full fibreFTTP broadband arrive in their area for many years and 17.4% even fear it may “NEVER” reach them.

The Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) proposed that nationwide availability would require public funding of up to £5bn, which could be used to support private investment in the final 10% of areas (mostly rural locations). Clearly this has some good support, even if many people doubt the currently quite aspirational time-scale.

How long do you think it will be before full fibre (FTTP) broadband reaches your area (pick closest)?
5-10 Years – 23.3%
2-5 Years – 18.7%
NEVER – 17.4%
10-15 Years – 17.2%
I can get it now! – 11.5%
1 Year – 5.8%
2 Years – 5.8%

The UK gov may have to invest c.£5bn of taxpayers money to ensure nationwide coverage of FTTP by 2033. Do you support this cost?
Yes – 70.4%
No – 16.9%
Maybe – 12.6%

Some say such funding would be better spent on hospitals or other public services. Do you agree?
No – FTTP fuels growth – 65.9%
Yes – Forget FTTP – 17.5%
Unsure – 16.5%

Deploying better broadband connectivity has in the past been shown to deliver an economic boost (example) and it’s thus hoped that investing to ensure nationwide coverage of FTTP may eventually pay for itself by fuelling more economic growth. All this could in turn help to support public services, possibly even more so than if £5bn were to simply be thrown at them as a one-off.

However we do still have our doubts about the commercial market’s ability to deliver the majority of that FTTP coverage and within the proposed time-scale. We’re also sceptical about whether ISPs would have much interest in match-funding such an effort to the final c.20-30% of premises, let alone the final 10%, particularly if the 5 year business rates holiday on new fibre isn’t extended.

The previous Broadband Delivery UK scheme largely focused upon supporting cheaper hybrid figure services (FTTC) via £1.6bn+ of public investment, although nearly half of that came from local authorities. Trying to replicate the same approach with FTTP in the future would be a lot more expensive and we suspect that local authorities may struggle to support it due to their already cash strapped budgets.

Nevertheless, full fibre is the future, but the question of delivery and investment is one that will probably only end up being answered by a different government in the future. The country is likely to go through several governments before 2033 and inevitably policies, as well as investment priorities, can change. Planning beyond a single parliamentary term is often fraught with difficulty.

NOTE: ISPreview.co.uk surveys are likely to receive a higher proportion of tech-savvy respondents than most, although the majority of our visitors are normal consumers (i.e. they come to this site for help and assistance with basic broadband problems / questions or when hunting for a new ISP).

UPDATE 7:38pm

Rural fibre optic ISP TrueSpeed, which is entirely supported by commercial investment, has sent in a comment that offers a different perspective.

Evan Wienburg, co-founder and CEO of TrueSpeed, said:

“It’s surprising to see two thirds of respondents believe that £5bn of taxpayers’ money on nationwide FTTP rollout is a better bet than putting the same money towards public services. This is especially the case when we have so many examples of national providers wasting taxpayer funds on building FTTC/FTTP networks where rollout is already complete or in progress by privately funded providers.

We wholeheartedly endorse the Government’s proposal to ensure FTTP rollout by 2033, but we should consider whether this £5bn is an effective deployment of public funds, when there’s a number of public services that don’t see the same private investment as broadband in the UK.

We found that 46% of people in the South West of England believe better broadband connectivity would be the most beneficial infrastructure development for their local economy – ahead of new rail or bus transport links – in our recent survey. While better broadband is clearly a crucial concern for many, the Government must ensure that local economies can truly thrive by ensuring public funds are invested only where private funds could not just as easily yield the same results.”

One slight problem here is that we’ve yet to see any commercial providers commit the investment needed to cover all rural areas across the UK. Some have found ways to tackle certain limited areas, but scaling this up has proven difficult (e.g. Gigaclear) and delivering at pace remains even harder.

Most other commercial providers have generally required match funding with public money in order to make it more economically viable at scale. But past a certain point even the match-funded model can begin to breakdown without ever bigger subsidies (e.g. Openreach in Wales – the Phase 2 contract).

Rural areas don’t want to wait another generation for full fibre connectivity to arrive and if it’s going to hit the 2033 aspiration then more public investment seems inevitable.

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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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25 Responses
  1. Avatar Legolash2o

    What I would like to see is to have a fibre cable going to each village/town/hamlet/whatever, so that if another company or BT wants to do FTTC/FTTP, there’s already the infrastructure to do so. Like a very small exchange.

    I’m guessing places like a village could be served by a single FTTC cabinet.

  2. Avatar Mike

    There are approx 24 million households in the UK. Divide £5b by £24m and it works out at just over £200 per household to fund full fibre nationwide (or close to nationwide coverage). Add that ~ £200 amount onto the council tax bill for each property say over 2 years and it works out at less than a tenner each month. I think majority of people would be happy to pay such an amount if it was to come out of the public purse.

  3. Avatar Mark

    Or put it another way, scrap the utterly pointless train set HS2, and save between 50 to 100 billion of tax payers money, now spend 5 billion of that on fibre BB to every doorstep and then say 20 to 30 billion on improving ALL public transport and roads that we already have!

    Theirs a novel idea, spend less money to affect far far far more people, rather then an obscenely greater amount of money that helps a select few in the country.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      How do you increase rail capacity to the north from London?

    • Avatar Joe

      They don’t all the anti HS2 arguments fail to solve the capacity issue.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      The reason HS2 is expensive and cost estimates are increasing are down to the selected route and the obsession with cutting the journey time. That is not the same argument for more capacity both freight and passenger.

      There are options for Northern city/town commuter lines, North interconnect and increased North/South Capacity.

      I would suggest a review would enable all these and still have some left over for other Infrastructure from £100Bn

    • Avatar Joe

      Mead: The route it takes is the lowest cost route. All the other schemes tinker around the edge of the problem and get nowhere near the capacity needed.

    • Avatar GNewton

      TheFacts’ question shows he doesn’t have a clear understanding about the real issues of HS2, and why it is overpriced, unlike many from the public. This document is a good starting point: https://www.51m.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Better-than-HS2-The-51m-Alternative-Infrastructure-Investment-Strategy.pdf

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @GN – Thanks for your comment, I have a total understanding of HS2.

    • Avatar davidj

      “The reason HS2 is expensive and cost estimates are increasing are down to the selected route and the obsession with cutting the journey time. That is not the same argument for more capacity both freight and passenger.”

      Nail struck on the head. It is not about capacity but cutting journey time. The railways despite what the government may tell you and some of the franchises are nowhere near capacity, infact capacity has been cut in recent years not increased to “bursting point”. (The media fave catchphrase).

      HS1 did not and has not solved any issues with regards to travellers from London making their way to the SE coast and ultimately out of the country. Most especially the non business wants to just get away savy traveller will still catch a conventional London to Dover train and then catch the Euro-star (if they are going to France/Europe). Its cheaper and does not take that much more time if you book the tickets in advance. Which is easily done nowadays.

      HS1 did not solve the freight issue for stuff going in and out of the country either. Cars for example which come in and out of the country and have done for decades do NOT just go straight from one port to a destination, they often sit at a dock for days or weeks sometimes months. Take a visit to dover and sheerness as 2 examples in the south east if people disbelieve it.

      Train services in this country and the timetable tweaking and government and franchises whining its about optimising travel times and similar is rubbish.

      The typical train nowadays is 4 or 8 cars, before the railways were privatised they were upto 16 cars in length.

      Technically speaking if you want to talk capacity more people per hour (especially during peak hours) travelled back then then they do now in and out of London.

      “Overcrowding” on trains today and news reports are typically of some 30 year old or younger, moaning about not having a seat and calling the service disgusting, not old enough to remember what real rush hour overcrowding looked like.

      Its a good job they did not travel back in the 80’s when you had a 16 car train with no heating which was actually “filthy” (another thing they like to think trains are nowadays) and you were shoe horned onto the train, where never mind having to stand you were lucky if the door on the train was not slammed into your spine while you were cramped into a carriage like cattle.

      People that think the rail service today is “overcrowded” or “at capacity” or other such media brainwashed nonsense (im not suprised at who it was that brought this up) have no clue and obviously have not travelled over the course of years on the railway or know how it works (or if they did they have short memory or attention spans).

      Oh and before Mr know it all responds. I know more than him on this matter. I come from a family whos brother sells tickets on the railway and has done for 15 years, my father sold tickets on the railways for over 40 years (so a good compare of how many travelling happens today vs the past), his father before him worked on the tracks for 20 years. And i work in a position not directly for the railway but has been involved in railway construction projects, including station refits, and builds.

      HS2 will solve nothing, the cost per ticket will be astronomical compare to what you can buy for your journey by simply splitting the travel and ticket from several rail operators.

      If you are going south to north or vice versa. It will be another white elephant. For SOME journeys it will only get you there somewhere 30 mins to an 1 hour (AT BEST) quicker and in the process depending on route you are likely to pay want is likely to be anything up to 3x times the amount for the privilege….

      Believe it or not MOST people do not want to pay significantly more for such a small improvement. For fright it will probably cost around 5x times more (depending on fright and when it is travelling), most companies will just stay as they are like they have with HS1 and do most of their fright overnight conventionally and then store it at a port until they have an optimal amount of fright to load onto the next leg of the journey for the best price. Business is about cost NOT convenience.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Trains were 16 cars in length before privatisation and that much increased?

      Wow. Privatisation shrank platforms as well – a bunch had to be enlarged to handle larger trains over the past years.

    • Avatar RickyMcdd

      tbh do we really need it? wouldn’t it be better if these people could work from home? Or the meetings be done over video conferencing. There really no reason for some office workers to travel at all.

    • Avatar davidj

      “Trains were 16 cars in length before privatisation and that much increased?

      Wow. Privatisation shrank platforms as well – a bunch had to be enlarged to handle larger trains over the past years.”

      Perhaps i should had been more precise for you…
      10, 12 and 16 carriage trains were the typical lengths used back in 1990s and earlier.
      10 and 12 during peak time with 16 car for longer distance peak time routes.

      Passenger train lengths today are typically only 4 or 5 car. With the odd 6-8 car or similar length for peak times on some (very few longer than that now) routes.

      The only trains longer than that except are in very specific regions and also High Speed trains from the likes of Virgin and other High speed services which can be 15 car or longer (No they have not made the platforms longer for just them either they separate the sheep waiting at platforms behind glass doors on those routes nowadays).

      Platforms length back 90s and before were not a concern, we did not have the same elf and safety we you have today.

      If you disbelieve that trains have got shorter NOT longer……….
      Feel free to go look up the ’91 Cannon Street Rail crash which was a 10 car train, which on that route (ill name stations as well if you want) would not had had platforms long enough at each station for all 10 cars.

      BTW that train also had near to 1000 people total on it (in just 10 cars or 100 per people per unit) Again makes the overcrowded remarks you have today where shock of shock a handful of people might have to stand look ridiculous.

      You will also not find any regular passenger service (NOT high speed) that does that route which is even 10 cars in length today. To help you go check that you need to be looking at detail about SouthEastern Trains and Thameslink. And to save you time on the carriage length operated by those today…
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_railway_rolling_stock

      So railway at capacity today is it???????????? Errrrrrrr NO!

  4. Avatar A_Builder

    @Mike

    “Divide £5b by 24m“

    Should read Divide £5b by 9m.

    If as the article says 15m premises get done by private money. This only leaves the balance for the £5bn to cover.

    I would see the £5bn as money well spent as it earns a pretty obvious ROI at national scale.

    • Avatar Salek

      I agree with the principle of contributing, if you were to add the an extra tenner to the council tax, once the payment of £200 is done, what then, do we continue to pay forever or do we revert back to the previous levels of course taking into account inflation, i have a funny feeling it will be an all time cost, much better to charge this as a connection fee

  5. Avatar Joe

    Interesting that even with a prompt for ‘Hospitals’ usually guarantee to produce a pro vote Fttp still won hansomely.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Self-selecting sample answering the question. Could ask some of visitors here to choose between FTTP and oxygen and they’d go with FTTP 🙂

  6. Avatar Jeffrey Davies

    You got to be joking

  7. Avatar A_Builder

    @Salek

    There are just so many reasons that connectivity is increasingly important.

    One of the most significant is he gov services going digital. What would be really inefficient is if 20% of the population are on snail mail, because their connection is too bad, and the other 80% are using digital.

    TBH I don’t really think that there is a need for FTTP to every homestead as the 4/5G will be fine for isolated areas where usage density is low and properly fitted high gain antennae are used.

    ATM I am buying some site for warehousing and one of the deciding factors is connectivity. Poor connectivity is removing sites from the list. And before anyone says “leased lines” think of the extended timescale and costs, we need to be up and running in weeks and not months. I have found quite a few sites with decent, for what we need, connectivity.

    • Avatar Darren

      4G/5G is not fine for isolated areas. We live in a kind of isolated area – we’re 3 miles from the nearest town, we are not on gas mains, and even though our exchange is equipped for fibre we are too far to receive it. Our top speed in about 4mbps, yes I can go faster using the 4G on my phone – however most 4G services restrict your download to maximum about 20Gb (GiffGaff do have an unlimited option but it excludes using it for streaming – so using it for home broadband is absolutely useless). On 4Mbps on our usage system we’re using about 100Gb a month so at 20Gb there is a long way to go before 4G even becomes viable.

      Then going forward there is more and more things needing faster and faster internet. We run our phone through VOIP so we can keep our Warrington phone number which takes data, we have two 4K TV’s in the house with two Sky HD boxes (we’ve actually been told our internet is too slow for Sky Q and that we’ll have to hope our Sky HD boxes last because they’re not making them any more) – as well as an Xbox One and a PS4 Pro that repeatedly try and download a couple of gig’s worth of updates every day! At least Xbox One Games Pass allows you to download the games to play on the console, PS4’s streaming service is useless ‘cos we can’t stream games fast enough with our internet – and going forward there are plans that games consoles like the next Xbox (whatever number scheme they go for this time??) or PS5 could be without any optical drive and all games will be downloaded to the system. It already took me 10 days of waiting to get Fallout 76 on my PC – how long is it going to be when everyone has these online gaming machines and everyone in this area is all trying to download the latest games, not to mention watch 4K movies online (the PS4 Pro is useless as it’s drive isn’t a UHD drive so the only way to get 4K into it is to download it!). Then there are also all these other things that are also taking up speed on the internet – smart meters that are calling the electric board to tell them how much electric your using… etc…. possibly the best solution is for BT to use some of that mountain of cash their shareholders are sat on after scamming everyone for years with a poor inadequate service, and install fibre everywhere, replace all existing phone lines with fibre only, and instead of still offering a copper cable phone network for people to speak on switch the entire phone network to VOIP. I suppose even if there are areas they can’t get fibre to if they switched those houses onto VOIP phones, and then used the entire voice frequency of the copper cable to send data instead of splitting it with filters that would give a lot larger audio frequency range for data to use on the copper cables.

    • Avatar Guy Cashmore

      @Darren

      Our experience of living with 4G only for the past 2 years is that data allowance and connection speed have improved faster than our demand is growing.

      We could only get 100GB a month from EE back then, but it was ample, 12 months later switched to EE 200GB for less money each month, then a couple of months ago we switched to Three with unlimited data and even less money.

      We now use about 250GB a month (we finally got Netflix), the our whole 4G experience has been fantastic, over 10x faster than the long disconnected ADSL and far more reliable too (the cable suffers almost monthly tree rub problems).

      VOIP experience has been fantastic too, total spend to date £16!

      If you can get signal JFDI.

  8. Avatar Marty

    If the government can afford to throw 54m away in fees for a garden bridge over the Thames then maybe this is possible.

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