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Cross-Party UK MPs Consult on ECC Changes to Boost Fibre Rollout

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021 (10:38 am) - Score 696
rural countryside broadband uk isp

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Broadband and Digital Communication has launched a new inquiry, which will examine how reforms to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) could help boost the deployment of “full fibre” broadband in rural and urban areas across the UK.

At present around 42% of homes and businesses across the UK can already access a gigabit-capable (1Gbps or 1000Mbps+) broadband ISP network, which is likely to reach over half of premises by the end of 2021 (c.60%) – thanks mostly to commercial FTTP deployments and DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades in urban areas.

The Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme aims to push this further and is focused upon expanding coverage across the final 20% of predominantly rural premises. The project aims to ensure that such speeds reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and aspires to get “as close to 100% as possible,” albeit depending upon how the industry responds (i.e. so far only £1.2bn has been released, but more will follow).

The ECC is a key foundation for all this because it reflects a set of rights that are designed to facilitate the installation and maintenance of electronic communications networks. The ECC was last reformed back in 2017 as part of the 2017 Digital Economy Act – supported by Ofcom’s Code of Practice (here), which made it both easier and cheaper for telecoms operators to access public or private land / property in order to build new networks.

At present the Government are already preparing to update the ECC, not least to help spread faster broadband into big buildings like apartment blocks (here) and also to support the delivery of new mobile infrastructure, particularly in rural areas (here). The separate Access to Infrastructure (ATI) Regulations 2016 may also be getting a few tweaks to support infrastructure sharing (here). Lest we forget that disputes over rents are another problem that may require further revisions (here and here).

The forthcoming Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill (TIB) will no doubt have a role to play in all this (here). As a result of all that, the APPG for Broadband and Digital Communication has decided that now would be a good time to launch an inquiry to see what related changes may be needed to help boost the rollout.

Specifically, the inquiry will aim to:

➤ Educate how the Code currently operates and its impact on network deployment with regard to access to land, particularly on the fixed network which is often underplayed in discussions on the Code compared to mobile networks.

➤ Highlight the benefits that could be delivered if reforms to the Code can be made.

➤ Highlight that without reform to the Code, millions of constituents both in multi-dwelling units – including social housing – as well as those in rural areas could be left behind and lose out on the social and economic benefits full fibre broadband can deliver.

All of this is to be welcomed, although it is necessary to always keep the land and property owners’ rights in mind. Howeve, fixed line fibre optic networks, unlike mobile infrastructure (large masts etc.), can often be run underground and thus tend to avoid many of the problems that impact mobile networks in such situations.

At present the APPG inquiry is seeking written evidence submissions from interested parties (the deadline for this is Friday 3rd September 2021), including telecoms operators and site owners, and will then convene oral evidence sessions in September 2021. Assuming all goes to plan then this should conclude by October 2021, but COVID-19 can make such things hard to predict.

Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. Gary says:

    ‘could be left behind’ at least they have a sense of humour, if not a working knowledge of recent history.

    More a case of will be left behind.. Again, for all of the same reasons as last time, too expensive with little chance of ROI.

    Cynical I know but can’t help feeling the only outcome of the APPG inquiry will be money spent and time passed And a report that tells us the same story we already know.

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