Go on, eat your fibre, new build contractors. It's free! OpenReach lowers limit for free FTTP connections

You may not have plumbing to the premises, but by god you'll have fibre

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Good news for much-maligned new-build contractors in the UK - equally maligned broadband infrastructure provider OpenReach today said it will drop the threshold for installing gigabit-capable fibre-to-the-premises connections to new build developments - from 30 houses to just 20.

This new threshold will take effect later this year, on April 1 - no really. The aim, it said, is to increase the uptake of fibre-to-the-premises on new developments from the current level of 45 per cent up to 100 per cent. It constitutes part of the firm's "Fibre First" effort to bring full-fibre connections to 4 million UK premises by March 2021.

OpenReach noted that after it introduced its free FTTP program, 99 per cent of builders working on sufficiently large developments took the company up on its offer.

The UK government set out to tackle the chronic housing shortage in the country in 2017, and has since aimed a large number of sweeteners at contractors and local councils alike (PDF) to achieve this.

In addition to this lower threshold, OpenReach has capped the amount paid by developers working on small-scale builds — including those containing as little as two houses — to install FTTP.

This is welcome news, but is likely scant comfort to those still languishing on yester-decade's broadband speeds.

In 2019, research from M-Lab and cable.co.uk revealed the UK ranked 34th in a list of average broadband speeds, behind a list of countries that include Madagascar, Hungary, and New Zealand.

Those stuck with the slowest speeds, predictably, tend to be in rural areas where the cost of laying new fibre is prohibitively expensive.

An example of that would be the Devon village of Templeton, where speeds hover well below 1 megabit. In 2017, villagers burned an effigy of an OpenReach van in protest about the business failing to deliver superfast broadband.

In 2016, MPs on the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee accused Openreach parent BT of having "significantly under-invested" in OpenReach, arguing that the infrastructure subsidiary should be spun off if significant reforms aren't met.

For what it's worth, then-BT chief exec Gavin Patterson argued strenuously against such a move, claiming it would complicate future UK broadband investments and increase the company's pension deficit, which last year measured £5bn. ®

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