The Department for Digital, Communication, Media & Sport (DCMS) has published a national, long-term strategy for the UK’s telecommunications sector, with a notable focus on the provision of full fibre services. The DCMS’ ‘Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR)’, which was announced as part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, proposes changes that the state says are needed to ensure that in future, the majority of the population will have access to 5G. Moreover, it calls for 15 million premises to be connectable via full fibre broadband by 2025, while targeting nationwide coverage by 2033. With the FTIR’s analysis indicating that, left unchanged, full fibre broadband networks would at best only ever reach three quarters of the UK, several recommendations have been made with a view to boosting fibre availability. Among the more notable are: the introduction of new legislation that will guarantee full fibre connections for new build developments; reforms to the regulatory environment for full fibre broadband that will drive investment and competition and is tailored to different local market conditions; an industry-led switchover from copper to full fibre coordinated with regulator Ofcom; and a reform of regulation by Ofcom so as to allow unrestricted access to Openreach’s ducts and poles for both residential and business use.
While the DCMS has said it expects the FTIR to drive competition and commercial investment in full fibre networks across as much of the UK, it has acknowledged there will be some parts of the country where it is unlikely the market will be able to deliver on its own. As such, it has said that nationwide availability of full fibre is likely to require additional funding of between GBP3 billion and GBP5 billion (USD3.9 billion-USD6.6 billion) to support commercial investment in the final 10% of areas. The affected regions, which the government noted are mostly rural locations, must not be forced to wait until the rest of the country has connectivity before they can access gigabit-capable networks. To that end, the state intends to pursue an ‘outside-in’ strategy, meaning that while network competition serves the commercially viable areas, the government will support investment in the most difficult to reach areas at the same time. It claims to have already identified around GBP200 million within its existing superfast broadband programme that can further the delivery of full fibre networks immediately.
In terms of next steps, the DCMS has said it will shortly publish consultations on legislative changes to streamline wayleaves (i.e. written consent to carry out work on private land) and mandate fibre connections in new builds. The conclusions of the FTIR will meanwhile form the basis of the government’s Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) to Ofcom, setting out the strategic objectives and outcomes that the regulator must have regard to in the exercise of its regulatory functions.