Network Providers Call For More Details On Boris Johnson’s Fibre Rollout Pledge

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Johnson has called for a fibre rollout to ‘every home in the land’ in five years’ time – a decade earlier than current estimates

Broadband companies have called for Boris Johnson to give more details on how he plans to accelerate the deployment of superfast fibre broadband across the UK, after Johnson called for the technology to be made available to “every home in the land” within five years.

The government has in the past set a goal of 2033 for the rollout of fibre to all premises, a target Johnson, the front-running the Conservative Party leadership candidate, called “laughably unambitious”.

Writing in the Telegraph, Johnson said: “If we want to unite our country and our society, we should commit now to delivering full fibre to every home in the land not in the mid 2030s – but in five years at the outside.

“Let’s say goodbye to the UK’s manana approach to broadband and unleash full fibre for all by 2025.”

Network rollout

To date the government has taken an incremental approach, committing to the delivery of Gigabit-capable full-fibre connections – that is, fibre-to-the-premises, or FTTP – to 10 million premises by 2022, then 15 million by 2025.

The aim is to eventually have all premises connected by fibre links, supplanting the legacy copper telephone lines often used for last-mile connections.

The government has set a goal of making this possible by 2033, working toward it with targeted investments, while building a regulatory environment that encourages the private sector to take the lead in developing fibre networks.

Linking premises to fibre involves physically laying cables to millions of locations, and BT’s Openreach subsidiary, which handles its network infrastructure, estimates a national full fibre network would cost £30 billion.

As such, it’s unclear how this work could be accomplished within five years, Openreach said.

“Building full fibre technology to the whole of the UK isn’t quick or easy,” the group said in a statement.

“It requires £30bn and a physical build to more than 30 million front doors, from suburban terraces to remote crofts.

“We’re determined to lead the way and there’s a lot that government could be doing now to help us go further and faster.”

Infrastructure

The UK Internet Service Providers Association said Johnson’s plan was “welcome”, but must be accompanied by “ambitious regulatory change”, including a reform of a tax system that the group argues is a disincentive to investment in the sector.

“Together with outdated planning laws, fibre business rates are holding our members back from accelerating their roll-out plans,” ISPA said.

Fibre network developer VX Fibre said the comments were an “admirable pledge”, but said the UK does not currently have the infrastructure in place to support such a quick rollout.

The firm noted that Sweden currently has a commitment to roll out fibre connections to all by 2025, but only after 15 years of building the network.

Sweden already has 90 percent fibre coverage, VX Fibre said.

“Faster internet across urban and rural Britain will only be made possible once the UK has installed its own full fibre network – replacing the current copper infrastructure which has served its purpose but is not fit to deliver the UK’s digital future,” said VX’s business development director, Richard Watts.

Virgin Media declined to comment, saying Johnson’s remarks included too little information.

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