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2019 Queen’s Speech Sets Out UK Gigabit Broadband Plans UPDATE

Monday, October 14th, 2019 (12:52 pm) - Score 4,019
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The Queen has today carried out the annual State Opening of Parliament, which as per usual included a list of policy plans that the Government intends to put forward over the coming years. As expected this included some planned legislation for broadband and internet safety related matters.

The Queen’s Speech is historically more of a ceremonial affair, which often only serves to feed the media with a tiny sliver of new information on forthcoming Government policy and precious little in the way of detail. On the other hand you do sometimes get a few surprises and as usual we keep an eye out for anything to do with broadband and telecoms.

Certainly year’s event is a little more unusual due to Brexit and the fact that the current Government doesn’t have a majority in the House of Commons; out of 650 seats they now only hold 288, rising to 298 when the DUP is included. Suffice to say that getting any new legislation passed will be extremely difficult and the possibility of another snap General Election taking place within the next few months cannot be ruled out.

NOTE: Sinn Féin have 7 seats but historically choose not to take them.

In terms of broadband policy, this year there were no huge surprises as most of what the Queen announced has already been reported. In that sense the Government confirmed last week’s announcement about new legislation to help tackle “rogue landlords” (here) and happily they also recommitted to ensure that new build homes have access to “gigabit-capable” broadband.

We’ve pasted both the relevant part of the Queen’s Speech and the Government’s policy commitment in full below.

The Queen said:

“To ensure that the benefits of a prospering economy reach every corner of the United Kingdom, my Ministers will bring forward a National Infrastructure Strategy. This will set out a long-term vision to improve the nation’s digital, transport and energy infrastructure. New legislation will help accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure broadband networks to millions of homes [Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill] .”

Broadband Legislation

The purpose of the legislation is to:
● Roll out gigabit capable broadband across the UK to achieve nationwide coverage as soon as possible so people can reap the huge benefits of the fastest, most secure and most resilient internet connections, regardless of where they live.

● Make it easier for telecoms companies to install broadband infrastructure in blocks of flats.

● Ensure that all new homes are built with reliable and fast internet speeds.

The main benefits of the legislation would be:
● Faster speeds (one gigabit, i.e. 1,000 megabits per second) boosting productivity, driving innovation in our public services and giving people the fast connectivity they need to access equal opportunities and reap the benefits of the digital revolution.

● Increasing download speeds with a gigabit-capable network, which are more than 30 times the speed of superfast broadband and will allow you to download a HD film in fewer than 45 seconds.

● Faster and more reliable internet connections for people living in flats. New measures will also ensure that all new homes are built with the fastest connectivity available, increasing certainty for businesses investing in gigabit speed networks and making it easier for people to switch to better broadband deals.

The main elements of the legislation are:
● Creating a cheaper and faster light-touch tribunal process for telecoms companies to obtain interim code rights (or access rights) for a period of up to 18 months. This will mean that they can install broadband connections where the landlord has failed to respond to repeated requests for access.

● Amending the Building Act 1984 so that Building Regulations require all new build developments to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections.

● Requiring for developers to work with broadband companies to install gigabit-capable connections in virtually all new build developments, up to a cost cap.

Territorial extent and application
● The Bill’s provisions extend and apply to the whole of the UK. Telecommunications is a reserved matter.

OTHER MEASURES
● To ensure that no part of the country is left without next-generation broadband, the Government has recently pledged £5 billion to support the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband in the hardest to reach 20 per cent of the country.

● In the two years to 2021 we are already investing £650 million to stimulate the market to deploy gigabit capable connections in urban and rural areas through:

○ The £400 million Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund.
○ The £200 million Local Full Fibre Networks Programme which funds locally-led full fibre projects.
○ The £200 million Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme which will deploy gigabit capable broadband to local hubs in rural areas, starting with primary schools.
○ The £67 million Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme.

● To further support the commercial environment for investment, the Government laid its Statement of Strategic Priorities for Ofcom in Parliament, formally confirming the regulation needed to maximise the deployment of gigabit broadband.

● The Government has spent £1.8 billion bringing superfast broadband to over 96 per cent of the country, with thousands of homes and businesses connected each week.

● Not all areas of the country have decent broadband. To tackle this the Government has introduced the Universal Service Obligation of 10 megabits per second. This is due to come into force in March next year and will give every home and business the legal right to request a decent connection up to a Reasonable Cost Threshold of £3,400 per premise.

Key facts
● One in seven people in the UK live in flats or apartments and it is estimated there are 450,000 blocks of flats in the UK.

● 40 per cent of operators’ requests seeking access from a landlord receive no response.

● It is estimated that operators will connect an extra 3,000 properties a year as a result of the Leasehold Property Bill.

● 22 per cent of new build developments in 2019 have been built without a gigabit-capable connection.

● 40,000 new homes are built a year without full fibre.

● A gigabit-capable network connection is one that is capable of achieving 1,000 megabits per second, i.e. 1 gigabits per second, download speeds.

The Government also made a separate mention of the £3.6bn Towns Fund (here), which includes some investment for broadband too, even though we don’t think much of that will actually go toward the digital connectivity side of things as it’s mostly intended for transport.

One other thing worth mentioning is that the Queen merely spoke of “fast, reliable and secure broadband networks.” Nowhere is PM Boris Johnson’s original 2025 target date used as a reference for achieving complete “gigabit-capable” broadband coverage. Instead they say this: “Roll out gigabit capable broadband across the UK to achieve nationwide coverage as soon as possible.” Vague.

Finally, the Queen also said her “ministers will continue to develop proposals to improve internet safety,” which was followed by a Government statement to say: “We are committed to making the UK the safest place to be online and will continue to develop proposals to achieve this end, including the introduction of new regulations for internet companies which ensure protections for web users.”

The above reflects their existing proposals under the April 2019 Online Harms White Paper, although we’re still awaiting the related legislation to show up for debate. As we said earlier, none of the above is particularly new but it does confirm the direction of travel and the key details will hopefully emerge once the new National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) is published in the coming weeks or months.

UPDATE 1:06pm

A comment has arrived from UK ISP Glide.

James Warner, Managing Director at Glide, said:

“In the current political climate, we are thrilled that the rollout of the digital infrastructure to support communities and business across the whole of the UK was a key part of this morning’s Opening Statement, and that the Government is taking the key steps to implement this across the UK.

The plans to bring forward the national infrastructure strategy and the development of legislation to accelerate the implementation of fast and reliable broadband networks will play a huge part in getting our connectivity deployment up to the same level as our European counterparts. It is no secret that the UK is lagging behind when it comes to being a fully-connected nation, so it is reassuring that there are plans in place to make a full-fibre Britain a reality.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the government plans to implement this within the timeframe, as we know that historically the installation of full-fibre has been a slow and expensive deployment. The DCMS Gigabit voucher has made a real difference in ensuring British businesses have the support to access super-fast broadband – to date the scheme has allowed us to help over 1,100 businesses across the UK.

As a leading broadband provider, we could not be more enthusiastic to hear about the government’s aims and we are very much looking forward to the opportunity to sit down with ministers to discuss the steps we have taken to support British businesses so far, and support with plans to ensure every home and business has access to full-fibre broadband.”

UPDATE 4:23pm

The boss of rural fibre and wireless ISP County Broadband has added his comment.

Lloyd Felton, CEO of County Broadband, said:

“Full fibre broadband will play a unique role in post-Brexit Britain – underpinning incredible advances in technology to unlock huge economic growth and transforming our way of life. We welcome the Queen’s Speech unveiling the National Infrastructure Strategy which promises to help us deliver world-class digital connectivity in East Anglia and make our region future-ready.”

UPDATE 15th October 2019 (7:04am)

Openreach has given their comment.

An Openreach spokesperson said:

“We’ve been calling for measures that encourage greater investment in full fibre broadband networks, so it’s great to see the Government outlining new legislation that will do just that.

Today’s speech aligns with our ambitions to build faster, more reliable broadband to as many homes and businesses as possible, and to help make sure no one is left behind.

There’s still more Government can do – for example, reforming business rates which penalise fibre infrastructure – but this is a positive step in the right direction.”

UPDATE 15th Oct 2019 (10:29am)

A couple more comments.

Evan Wienburg, Truespeed CEO, said:

“Championing the levelling up of the digital playing field and closing the productivity gap between London and elsewhere with gigabit-capable connections is precisely what this country needs so we were encouraged to see this reiterated in the Queen’s Speech.

A recent survey we undertook with the Somerset Chamber of Commerce shows the scale of the problem, revealing that 42% of Somerset businesses surveyed still do not have access to fibre broadband and that one third have to make do with dated copper phone lines to access the internet.

We look forward to poring over the government’s much anticipated National Infrastructure Strategy, which will provide more details on exactly how the government’s goals will be achieved. Accelerating the roll out of gigabit-capable infrastructure to every corner of the UK is a priority if we are to build a thriving and highly productive digital economy.”

Andrew Glover, ISPA UK Chair, said:

“The Queen’s Speech gave some useful clarity about measures Government intends to put in place to help our members rollout nationwide coverage of gigabit capable broadband. We have stressed that new builds and wayleaves legislation is needed as a matter of urgency for industry to accelerate rollout and we are pleased that the Government has listened to our concerns and addressed this within the Queen’s Speech.

However, this legislation alone is not enough to achieve the Government’s target. New builds and wayleaves legislation and the existing funding commitments are only the first step to achieving nationwide coverage of gigabit capable broadband, and industry still needs broader support from Government to ensure that the whole country is covered.”

Leave a Comment
12 Responses
  1. Avatar Meadmodj

    As you say nothing new. It was likely governments of any colour were going to address the National Infrastructure Strategy going forward with the only difference being their funding approach. A Queens Speech from a Government that does not command a majority in the house is worthless and is likely to be voted down in its entirety.

    We will have to wait and see what appears in the various manifestos, so all this still remains ideas for now. Unfortunately we also know what manifestos turn out to be.

    If only subjects such as infrastructure couldn’t be cross party, long term investment, certainty etc.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @ Meadmodj

      I would not be so negative.

      If nothing else the Prime Minister making FTTP a priority and it being in a Queens Speech has elevated it from echo chamber conversation to serious open discussion.

      A) If you or I had posed 12 month ago that as much of the UK was going to be commercially FTTP’d as is now happening we would have been written off a delusional.

      B) If we had then said the UK PLC was looking at stumping up £5Bn to do that last 10% we would also have been laughter at.

      A is now a funded reality & B is so high up the agenda that it is an electoral issue.

      In rural constituencies say ‘I don’t back £5Bn FTTP’ will be a bit like saying don’t vote for me. So it is an issue.

      If both Tories and Labour both say they want to spend £5Bn on FTTP it will happen.

      It has got to happen otherwise you cannot force people to use digital government services if they cannot connect to them. The cost of keeping parallel paper systems in place will be massive and amortised over a few years will dwarf the £5Bn input.

      So I don’t get the negativity.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      I just hope you are correct. My view is they are just positioning for the coming election. If they really wanted to do it and achieve 2025 since parliament is sitting they should be presenting a white paper now rather that exchanging insults regarding B.

      They have back tracked to Giga but if we are to progress on FTTP then industry (OR and Altnet) need to ramp up and plan but they need certainty regarding fibre tax, rural subsidies etc.

      My pessimism comes from the fact that it could be another year before we get the commitment rather than promises.

  2. Avatar Joe Pineapples

    One is amused.

  3. Avatar t0m5k1

    Would be great if I could get 10Mb on my VDSL connection even better if my part of the street had access to FTTP

    • Avatar Samena

      I get 1.5Mbps on my ADSL – New build estate – the opposite side can get FTTC at about 15mbps and the end of the road (main road) has got Virgin at 500!! – So I feel your pain and raise you even more!

      God only hoping Virgin FTTP’s this estate to give us at least the same- or BT step in with their Gigabit – Seems I am not able to get a Satellite grant because I live in the middle of a city – really about to give up on using the internet – even my mobile only gets about 3mbps and i’ve tried 3 networks here!

    • Avatar Steve

      Samena, sounds like you need a friend on the main road and a couple of Ubiquiti NanoBeams..

  4. Avatar Marty

    Getting there might be gradual but’s it’s getting there 🙂

  5. Avatar Tempest3K

    Will be interesting to see if the proposals will force altnets to fill in full fibre blackspots, like the one I’m stuck in (not impressed UFO) or if we’ll see repeats of the old ADSL then FTTC issues….

  6. Avatar Teco

    We have Gigaclear in our village, and had signed up to the FTTP over a year ago, still waiting due to the Shared driveway and an presumed issue with a wayleave,( Gigaclear have not contacted me even though I email me asking for a update) we have a EO line so don’t have any other way of getting Fibre. ( yet) I know its only a small percentage of homes but this needs to be addressed, why cant they use the Openreach infrastructure to provide the fibre.

  7. Avatar Jigsy

    I recently upgraded from my 1.5 Mbps ADSL and now get 30 Mbps VDSL.

    This government/monarch BS though I seriously doubt.

  8. Avatar Brendan Richman

    Just put in OM4 fibre (specced for up to 100G) to every new home or every new connection from the cab etc and we’ll never have to do it ever again. Doing it now becomes a non-issue for pretty much the next 100+ years I’ll bet!

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