The government is to create a £5 billion fund to bring “gigabit-capable connectivity” to areas of the UK that won’t be covered by commercial deployments of fibre and other ultrafast technologies.
The funding forms part of a package set to be announced at the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week. Its hoped that this will also ease regulations for mobile infrastructure, accelerating the construction of 5G networks.
Figures show that 96 per cent of the country now has access to superfast broadband, most of which is powered by Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) which uses copper for the final few hundred metres of the connection.
UK fibre subsidy
Coverage has been aided by a number of funding initiatives, most notably Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), but government policy has shifted in the past few years to indicate that “full fibre” is the technology of choice.
The current government target for switching off the UK’s copper network is 2033, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants this brought forward to 2025. The industry has said such an ambitious goal isn’t out of the question – but only if regulations are favourable and government financial support is present.
Just eight per cent of premises (2.5m) in the UK currently have access to full fibre, with the majority connected via fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), which uses copper for the final few hundred metres of the connection. BT Openreach plans to cover four million properties with fibre by 2021 and 15 million by the mid-2020s, while Virgin Media, CityFibre and TalkTalk are working on their own rollouts.
The government believes that up to 80 per cent of the country will be covered by these deployments, but wants industry to go further. Some have placed the total cost of extending coverage nationwide – including rural areas – at £30 billion.
The £5 billion fund was first reported over the weekend and has since been confirmed by Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan and Chancellor Sajid Javid. Details of how the subsidy will be distributed are unclear, although the use of “gigabit-capable” connectivity rather than fibre suggests a more technologically agnostic approach that would allow Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) and cable.
Earlier this month it was reported that Morgan had met with telecoms executives to discuss proposals to extend coverage. The Telegraph has seen documents in which BT CEO Philip Jansen suggests that in order to connect more profitable areas of the country, providers should be obligated to cover adjacent areas too. In effect, this would mean that for every three fibre lines deployed in an urban area, one should be laid in the countryside.