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Countryside Alliance Calls on UK Gov to Set Out Full Fibre Funding

Friday, June 28th, 2019 (2:00 pm) - Score 1,148

The Countryside Alliance, which is home to 100,000 members who campaign to protect UK rural areas, has called on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) to demand a “funding strategy” from the Government to support the aspiration of making “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband available nationwide by 2033.

At present the Government has been largely focused upon making changes that help to facilitate the market to build as much Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology as possible by itself, which is being supported by various investment schemes, voucher programmes, changes to regulation and a holiday on business rates (tax) for new fibre etc.

Last year’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) also recognised that “additional [public] funding” of around £3bn to £5bn would be required to support commercial investment in the final c.10% of areas. We view that as a conservative estimate (the final gap could be a lot bigger than 10%) and this is assuming the private sector would even match it (past a certain point even the subsidised models become difficult for traditional ISPs).

Meanwhile the cross-party EFRA committee recently launched a related inquiry, which aims to examine the remaining problems with gaining access to superfast broadband ISP connectivity, mobile signals and accessing digital-only services in remote rural parts of the United Kingdom (here). As part of that the CA has told EFRA that the government needs to set out a strategy for how it will fund the 2033 aspiration.

On top of that they’ve also called for the planning system to be updated to “enable swifter delivery of mobile and broadband connectivity“. The Alliance said that red tape, bureaucracy and poor guidance were holding back the infrastructure needed to deliver superfast broadband and called on the Government to remove and reduce these barriers to connectivity.

Sarah Lee, Countryside Alliance Head of Policy, said:

“The Government is hugely ambitious for a digital Britain, an ambition we support. At a time when Britain is leaving the EU we must ensure Britain is globally competitive in the post-Brexit world, and this will not be the case unless we invest in better digital connectivity that is fit for purpose, responsive to user needs and future proofed in line with the best available technology.”

In fairness the Government would face a difficult dilemma here. On the one hand, without a stronger funding commitment being made, the build may be too slow to achieve their 2033 aspiration. Sure it’s ramping up well now but this is irrelevant because we’re assuming that, without more support, the build progress will do as it always does and slow right down as it moves beyond urban areas and the suburbs.

On the other hand if they stage a major intervention too soon then this could risk upsetting the existing private investment and competition that continues to develop, particularly if most of the funding ended up being hoovered up by BT (i.e. a repeat of BDUK Phase 1).

However, this time around the issue could be even more pronounced than BDUK Phase One because FTTP, unlike the FTTC / VDSL technology that dominated Phase One, is much more future proof. This leaves little room left for infrastructure competitors once built, particularly in rural areas where the economic models are already hard enough.

Solving these issues will not be easy, which is why we suspect that the Government may continue to adopt a limited approach of targeted incentives and other changes. Essentially, allowing the market time to show what it can actually deliver before figuring out where more public investment is going to be required (probably a few years down the road).

The other difficulty with FTTP is that it is an inherently slow technology to deploy and people will become impatient, which may in turn put more pressure on the Government to act sooner rather than later. The inquiry will report later in the year.

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar CarlT says:

    I’m sure wealthy landowner members of the Alliance will be happy to contribute rather than expecting the largely urban taxpayer to subsidise such things for them 🙂

    PS: For those butt hurt by the above give it a rest – land ownership in the UK is incredibly messed up with huge swathes of the country passed down from aristocratic family to aristocratic family. I am talking about them, not Joe Average rural resident or farmer struggling to make a living – the clue being the words ‘wealthy landowner members’.

    1. Avatar Joe says:

      Oh come off it Carl. The big estates barely exist outside of Scotland. Crossing big estates owned by the old families is but a tiny fraction of weyleaves.

    2. Avatar dragoneast says:

      Oh come off it. Whether it’s owned by aristos, the newly rich, “poor” farming families, pensions funds or mortgaged to a financial institution makes no difference: the chartered surveyors (estate agents by any other name) earn their keep from the fees as a proportion of the comp, or a time charge, so they can’t lose either way. The rest of us do, instead. Still we have to employ people somehow, and it makes a change from b*****ing up the IT. The two occupations who have never heard of customer service (along with the building industry and taxis). Just do as you please, up the bill, take the cash and get out. aka we do as we please and you get what you’re given to the rest of us!

    3. Avatar Mustafiz R says:

      Agreed.

      They are better of sticking to ‘trail hunting’ and ‘looking after the country side’ than getting involved with something they lack knowledge on.

  2. Avatar Brian says:

    I can see no problem trying to establish a plan after years of drifting and hoping things will happen, govt bodies just lying to make up for the lack of knowledge, and bringing the possibility of those who have been left behind with false promises for so many years actually have some details of what actions are actually going to happen.

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