The government must create an “ambitious strategy” for the majority of the UK to have access to a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) connections in the next 10 years and near universal coverage by 2030, the representative body for small "alternative network" providers.
In its "Building Gigabit Britain" report today, the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) is calling for a series of policy regulatory changes that would enable commercial deployment of 80 per cent of FTTP coverage by 2016. That is instead of a public subsidy scheme.
According to Ofcom, just two per cent of business and residential premises currently have FTTP connections. Chief exec of the body Sharon White has already said that “fibre is the future” in the UK.
The report said: "Unless there is a swift and significant increase in FTTP deployment, the UK will trail behind all other developed nations on connectivity, significantly undermining its long-term economic growth and competitiveness."
Unsurprisingly, the body slammed BT for sweating its copper network via its G.fast technology, which it claimed offers "eye-catching potential top download speeds” but will "simply repeat today’s broken broadband problems: unreliable service, a patchwork of 'up to’ speeds."
It claimed "altnets" FTTP deployment plans could increase by between 25 per cent and 50 per cent in "a more supportive policy and regulatory environment.”
Currently, the likes of small players such as Gigaclear and CityFibre have linked up over 650,000 premises with pure connections, they claim – double the current number delivered by BT.
Measures to achieve the government's goal should include a fundamental review of the business rates for fibre, including removing all rates on new fibre assets for 10 years, the indie firms said. Their representative body is also calling on the government to create a Broadband Investment Fund to provide capital for alternative networks.
David Cullen, INCA Chair, said: "If INCA’s recommendations are implemented we believe the Altnets can deliver around half of these FTTP connections by 2026. This sector is ambitious, capable and central to Building Gigabit Britain."
He added: "The government does have a vital role to play. It needs to set out a clear Gigabit Britain Strategy, including a target for the majority of the UK to have access to an FTTP connection by 2026 – we think that 80 per cent FTTP coverage can be delivered competitively by the market in the next ten years.”
In its recommendations INCA called on the government to ensure "strictly enforced" rules are in place prohibiting the overbuild of FTTP networks using public subsidy. To remove barriers to FTTP deployment, the government should make amendments to the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 to reduce the notice required on minor roads, said the body.
It must also work to retain the key elements of the Electronic Communications Code as it becomes law to ensure a "connectivity- focused Code of Practice is in place to underpin the working relationship between Communications Providers and landowner.”
Ofcom must place competition and investment in FTTP networks front and centre of all its work by: ensuring that BT Openreach’s governance does not inhibit investment by alternative networks; that Openreach fully commits to making Duct and Pole Access; and creating an independent tribunal to resolve disputes between BT Openreach and alternative operators, said INCA.
The term Gigabit Britain was first used by former digital minister Ed Vaizey, in reference to the government's still-yet-to-be-published digital strategy. However, Vaizey has made no secret in his support for Openreach in delivering that goal. He has said BT’s G.Fast programme is a pragmatic stepping stone toward an FTTP infrastructure and that BT is right to take an “incremental approach”.
Currently Openreach has 300,000 FTTP customers. However, in the next four years the biz intends to deliver ultrafast speeds just four years from now for 12 million homes – two million of which will be FTTP.
Virgin Media has also said it will be rolling out FTTP to 1 million homes and businesses in the UK by 2019.
The report has been compiled in consultation with INCA members including CityFibre, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, Relish, ITS, Warwicknet, and Sky and Vodafone. ®