Chancellor Philip Hammond set to detail new funds for ‘full fibre’ but who will get money for FTTP?
The government will pledge £400 million towards the rollout of ultrafast broadband as part of a new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund, building on recent statements that the UK needs “full fibre” (i.e. fibre to the premise (FTTP)) if it is to fulfil its digital potential.
The funds will be detailed by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his Autumn Statement and like the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project for superfast broadband, it is expected that private companies will have to match any money awarded.
BDUK was designed to bring superfast broadband to areas that wouldn’t have been covered by commercial deployments. Under the programme, central government funding was handed to local authorities who had to match the sum received. Nearly all the contracts available were won by BT Openreach, which also invested significant amounts.
The decision to give BT the lions’ share of funding was controversial, as was the use of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) technology for virtually all of the rollout. Both BT and the government insist they are on track to reach the stated goal of 95 percent coverage by 2017.
However BT has now pledged to bring ‘ultrafast’ to 12 million homes and businesses by 2020 and the “majority” of the UK within a decade. However just two million of these will be FTTP connections with the remainder using ‘G.Fast’ – a technology that speeds up copper cables.
Virgin Media is also connecting two million premises to FTTP and other providers like CityFibre, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic are building networks. TalkTalk has a project in York with a view to expanding it nationwide.
And now the government believes FTTP is the future. Minister for the Digital Economy Matt Hancock recently said the country needed ultrafast infrastructure and an environment that promoted 5G rollout.
It is unclear at this stage who would be favourites for the funding, however CityFibre is encouraged by the development, claiming it will provide additional funding for “alternative infrastructure providers” to compete with behemoths like BT.
“As a pure fibre infrastructure pioneer and the company behind the UK’s growing ranks of Gigabit Cities, CityFibre welcomes the Chancellor’s support to accelerate the deployment of fibre and 5G to homes and businesses,” said CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch.
“Britain’s industrial strategy needs a digital backbone, and it is essential that we move quickly to plug the UK’s ‘fibre gap’ and empower our service-based economy. This new funding, stimulating competitive fibre rollout at scale by new communications infrastructure builders, is a catalyst for the delivery of the UK’s fibre future.”
Industry observers have welcomed the principle of providing public funds for rollout but think it would be better spent on extending superfast rollout or achieving the universal service obligation (USO) which is a proposed 10Mbps.
“While it is commendable that the Treasury considers broadband provision in the UK worthy of additional government funding, it is utterly absurd that this funding should provide to a minority speeds for which there is no known or useful purpose while so many others struggle for anything approaching basic adequacy,” commented Dan Howdle, telecoms expert at Cable.co.uk.
“It may be that some of those areas targeted for ‘ultrafast’ are indeed those with inadequate basic provision, but realistically it is far more likely it will be brought to areas where there is an economic incentive for those providing the service. Rural locations especially do not fit this criteria because the uptake among residents, even for existing superfast speeds of 24Mbps or more, tends to be very low.
“And let us not forget, there is currently no known or useful purpose for ultrafast broadband. Touting that you ‘Can download a series of Game of Thrones in seconds’ is fatuous nonsense. You can already watch it in seconds by streaming it in HD with just an 8Mbps connection. And even if you wanted to download a whole box set, those who provide such services throttle the maximum speed at which you can do so.
“The government should be spending this money where it matters most, along with putting in place firm restrictions as to exactly where this new network provision can be applied – prioritising those who need it most.”
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