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Government Push Gigabit Broadband into New Build UK Homes

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 1,857

The UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has today unveiled new legislation, which will effectively make it mandatory for property developers to ensure that almost every new home is built with support for “gigabit-speed” (1Gbps) broadband ISP connections “fit for the future.

Data published last month (here) revealed that around 96% of new build homes in 2019 were being built with access to a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) network, which falls to 85% for those with access to an “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) service or 83% for “full fibre” (FTTP). The figures have improved a lot over the past few years, but gaps remain.

NOTE: A 2016 directive from the EU (details), which is already adopted into UK law, means that all newly constructed buildings (i.e. those that gained permission after the 31st December 2016) must be “equipped with a high-speed-ready in-building physical infrastructure, up to the network termination points.” But this still leaves it up to the developers and ISPs to decide whether or not to deploy an actual working service.

The government have long been advising councils to ensure that they factor at least superfast broadband into local planning approvals for new build developments, albeit not gigabit class services, but that was only a soft approach (note: a lot of projects being built today are still based on plans that were approved years ago). Operators like Virgin Media and Openreach have also made it more attractive for developers to deploy their FTTP.

Despite this, property developers tend say that deploying such broadband services can become prohibitively expensive, particularly in remote rural areas, due to the lack of any gigabit-capable networks nearby. Not that this has prevented many of those same companies from raking in big annual profits.

Nevertheless the new plan to invest £5bn in order to help every home in the country gain access to a “gigabit-capable” broadband service by the end of 2025 seems poised to change all that (here). Likewise the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), and the 2018 Budget (here), both proposed changes that could mandate Gigabit connections for new build homes.

The related consultation on this concluded in December 2018 and, after a very long wait, the Government has finally decided to proceed with its proposed plan and is today consulting on new secondary legislation.

What are the changes for new builds?

The changes to the existing Building Regulations (2010) mean that developers will be “legally required to install high-quality digital infrastructure from the outset, make it a priority as part of the build, and ensure broadband companies are on board before the first brick is laid,” said DCMS.

The Proposed Changes

* Developers must ensure new homes have gigabit broadband. This includes ensuring that the physical infrastructure necessary for gigabit-capable connections is provided on site for all new build developments and that the home is connected by an operator to a gigabit-capable connection.

* The requirement on the developer to provide a gigabit-capable connection exists unless the cost to the developer of providing connectivity exceeds £2,000, or the operator declines to provide a connection.

* If gigabit broadband exceeds the cost cap, the developer must provide at least superfast connection within the same cost cap, unless the operator declines to provide a connection.

* The policy will apply to all new residential dwellings, including conversions and self-built homes, but excluding renovated buildings, schools, hotels and prisons.

* To make sure developers are incentivised to follow the plans, the government has worked with operators to secure “significant new commitments” that they will contribute to the costs of installing gigabit broadband in new-build homes. Virgin Media will contribute at least £500 and, in the case of some larger sites, £1,000. Openreach has committed to a combined contribution with developers of £3,400 (same as the broadband USO level), with a maximum developer contribution of £2,000. “The government expects to have agreement from other operators in the coming weeks,” said DCMS.

We should point out that building regulations are a devolved matter, thus the above proposed amendments to the Building Regulations 2010 will only apply to England. However, the government has said that they intend to “work closely with the Devolved Administrations” (i.e. Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland) to help them implement this in a consistent way across the UK.

Oliver Dowden MP, UK Digital Secretary, said:

“This legislation means every new home will be built fit for the future and give people access to world-class broadband speeds from the moment they move in.

It’s all part of our plan to deliver on our commitment to give everyone in the UK access to gigabit broadband, as we connect and level up the country.”

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach, said:

“Providing full fibre to new homes is an important part of Openreach’s commitment to invest in faster, more reliable broadband technology – as part of our ‘Fibre First’ strategy.

We’ve been leading industry, progressively lowering the plot size threshold at which we offer free full fibre installation for new housing developments. This is now available to smaller developments of just 20 homes. In addition, we’ve capped the amount house builders contribute if they ask Openreach to build full fibre to smaller-scale developments of just 2 and 3 premises – to help encourage further full fibre take-up.

We welcome the government’s announcement that all new build homes will be required to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections, and we will work closely with government and housebuilders on the best way to deliver this.”

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“Many property developers have been building brand new homes with second-rate broadband connections for far too long.

The Government should be applauded for introducing legislation to ensure every new home has access to future proof gigabit broadband as standard – something we’ve long called for. By busting these broadband barriers, government and industry can work together and ensure new homes are no longer left behind in the gigabit broadband revolution.”

At the time of writing we haven’t been able to see the full consultation document and so we may need to update this article again once that becomes available later this morning (we’ll add it in an update at the bottom), although there are a few points that need to be considered.

Firstly, the inclusion of “self-built homes” is interesting, although in practice it probably won’t have that much of an impact in truly remote rural areas. This is because many personal builds by individuals could easily exceed the proposed cost cap(s) and thus operators would “decline to provide a connection“. Realistically there may not be much that can be done about this, until wider national connectivity improvements reach such areas.

Another issue, which isn’t quite as important, is the tendency of some developers to go with niche or closed networks, which can leave consumers with very little or no real alternative ISPs to choose (i.e. mini-monopolies). Forcing operators to build open networks may not be an option here, but we do hope that all new build sites stay open to rival fibre being pulled through their ducts (i.e. not hindering rivals via exclusivity of access).

Next there’s the question of where and when the new rules will be enforced. The rules, as drafted, are only intended to be applied to developments that have yet to start building (i.e. planning approval phase), which means that they won’t bring any benefit to existing or recently completed projects. In fairness it would be very difficult to retrospectively enforce such a change.

Finally, we don’t believe these proposals will tackle another problem that some new build owners often find – the lack of physical data points. Some developers will install the fibre to a single Optical Network Terminal (ONT) location within the home (it’s not uncommon for this to be inside a small cupboard or under the stairs), which is all well and good but that leaves WiFi to carry the service around (wireless loses you a lot of speed).

Granted you can tackle some of the above problem by using an expensive mesh network alongside the latest 802.11ax (WiFi v6) standard (needed to retain as much of that 1Gbps+ as possible), but this isn’t ideal. Likewise Powerline (HomePlug) style solutions, which convert electrical cables to carry Ethernet signals, don’t always work as well as hoped. In an ideal world the developer should install more physical data points around the home (inexpensive if done alongside normal wiring work).

Otherwise the Government intends to lay their new legislation “as soon as parliamentary time allows.” In the meantime if you’re looking to buy a new build home then ALWAYS make sure to get what you expect to receive for broadband confirmed in writing BEFORE parting with your cash. Sadly some property sales people have often misled purchasers (you should also ask to be informed of any delays with such deployments).

UPDATE 7:24am

The Government’s full response to their earlier consultation can now be found online (here).

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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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11 Responses
  1. Avatar Groucho

    It’s a pity our ‘government’ doesn’t force developers to fit solar panels as standard.

    • Avatar Gary

      And force you to wear a blue ‘workers overall’ and worship their mandated deity and censor your TV and internet ?

    • Avatar joe

      Eh? Gary. SP or Air/ground source being fitted as standard (where buildable) is a big cost saving for the customer and the environment..

    • Avatar A_Builder

      OT but Solar thermal makes most sense in terms of displacing CO2 usage and having a very very low environmental footprint. Storing hot water is not new technology!

      Until recently, when domestic battery storage became a thing, rooftop EV was more problematic in terms of demand balancing.

      It depends what you are trying to achieve and with what surface area of roof you have to play with.

    • Avatar JmJohnson

      Not just the roof area but the building rotation… solar panels aren’t viable on a lot of premises due to that.
      It would mean they wouldn’t be able to squeeze so many plots into a development due to access.

    • Avatar joe

      @A_Builder lots of ways to crack that nut. (Solar thermal, solar and ground/air combined, solar->battery) But all of them (like BB) is so much easier and cheaper to fit at build that its madness we’re still making ppl do this afterwards…

  2. Avatar Gary

    Not really Every new home though is it ? As you mention later in the article.

    /quote
    unless the cost to the developer of providing connectivity exceeds £2,000, or the operator declines to provide a connection
    /endquote

    Though its unreasonable to make it a legal requirement disregarding cost or need, £2000 is a very low cost point to set the cut off, Effectively means the changes only apply to places already served or very close to existing infrastructure.

  3. Avatar Neil Sheriff

    I asked the developer of my new build property about installation of Ethernet cabling around the home and was told they won’t do that… was very disappointed with Taylor Wimpey as I would have to rip the walls back out that they have just put in to be able to put the cabling around my home as I want.

    • Avatar Spurple

      Why can’t you pull ethernet in place of the existing ducts for telephone wires? Not ideal, but you shouldn’t need to chase any walls.

  4. Avatar Anonymous2020

    The government really need to crack down on developers building their own networks and locking out other providers. Case in point – persimmon homes have started to build their own network to pretty much all of their new developments regardless of the fact BT or Virgin could supply a connection.

    This practice should be outlawed as it wouldn’t be tolerated if you were forced to buy your electricity or gas from a single provider so should be the same case for internet. This is in effect a perpetual payment to the house builder.

    Moreover there is no need for the builder to innovate or provide good customer service as they are the only feasible option for their customers. Who knows what their contention ratios are or peering arrangements with large CDNs etc.

    For this reason I cancelled a reservation I had on a plot with persimmon and looked elsewhere.

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