Openreach's cunning plan to 'turbocharge' the post-Brexit economy: Getting everyone on full-fibre broadband by 2025

£59bn boost – 'if we can get right conditions to invest'

BT's pipe laying subsidiary Openreach has published a list of proposals it claims will help Britain gain full fibre by the mid-2020s.

Alongside its fibre blueprint, Openreach has published a report with the Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR), in which it estimates that connecting everyone to full fibre by 2025 could, er, result in a £59bn economic boost, equivalent to £1,700 per worker.

The research follows a recent government pledge to invest £5bn in rural broadband.

In order to reach its 2025 goal, Openreach wants to see a removal of business rates that "penalise" fibre; improved access to multiple dwelling units (blocks of flats) and local authority buildings; mandating fibre in new-build developments; more efficient streetworks and traffic management; and continued access "to a helpful international trading environment".

The National Infrastructure Commission has previously estimated that it could cost £33.4bn to build a nationwide full-fibre network, mostly from private investment.

However, as Andrew Ferguson of Think Broadband points out, Openreach's current ambition still remains to pass 15 million premises with full fibre by the mid-2020s. "Today does not reflect any new news to go beyond that 15 million."

He said: "The government's aim of 100 per cent full fibre for 2025 is going to be all hands on deck with every provider doing their bit to build FTTP [fibre to the premises].

"The question that needs resolving is while the government is talking of £5bn for the rural chunks the commercial operators skip – these commercial operators will be so busy building, who is actually going to have the spare resources to do the less dense areas? Both [in terms of] people and the actual lengths of fibre, tubing and tools needed to get this onto poles or into the ground."

Sam Baker, analyst at Juniper Research, said: "Last-mile solutions for any connectivity technology are always notoriously difficult to plan ahead for, including FTTP connections. There are a number of factors that are difficult to plan, such as access to sites, legal requirements, and unforeseen problems with installations. However, as fibre can be viewed as a long-term solution for connectivity, these rollouts are basically essential."

Paolo Pescatore, telecoms analyst at PP Foresight, added: "There is a fibre frenzy with the altnets and Virgin Media pushing Openreach to connect more towns and cities. This is obviously great news for UK plc.

"While this latest move is a step in the right direction, all providers face numerous challenges.

"In reality there are too many hurdles to overcome. Gaining approval from local councils, closing streets for weeks to dig up the roads will cause major disruption. Everyone in the UK should go on holiday for a year and come back to a fully connected fibre (gigabit ready) Britain.

"There is no shortage of investment. Arguably providers should collaborate with each other to serve underserved communities rather than compete in the same areas."

In a statement, Openreach CEO Clive Selley said: "Full fibre is a vehicle to turbocharge our economy post-Brexit, with the power to renew towns and communities across the UK. We're proud to be leading the way with over 1.8 million homes and businesses already having access to our full-fibre network. We're currently building full fibre to around 22,000 premises a week – which is one every 28 seconds. But we want to go even faster and further – to 15 million premises and beyond if we can get the right conditions to invest.

"Through our Fibre First programme, Openreach is now building to 103 locations across the UK and we're on track to build to four million premises by March 2021. With the right policies and regulation, we can build a better, more reliable broadband network faster than any other country in the world and unlock the benefits for the whole UK.

"If that doesn't happen, then many people will be locked out of a more connected future and the UK could lose its status as a global digital leader." ®

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