Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman has announced that DCMS is seeking views on changing regulations to make infrastructure sharing easier for broadband companies, by giving broadband firms access to more than a million kilometres of underground utility ducts. The proposals are designed to help accelerate the rollout of next-generation broadband by 2025.
Currently, the civil engineering costs make up to 80% of the costs to install new digital infrastructure, with new ducts and poles proving particularly costly. The government’s proposed review could permit the opening up of access for broadband network operators to house their equipment on ‘passive’ infrastructure owned and used by other telecoms companies.
The proposals also include the possibility of network providers accessing electricity, gas, water and sewer networks that span the UK to run high-speed broadband cables, using new and existing infrastructure lining the road and rail networks.
Despite superfast broadband covering nearly 96% of the UK, and full fibre broadband increasing to over 14% coverage, barriers remain to ensuring the government meets its 2025 target of gigabit-capable broadband for all. Several levers are being used to address these barriers, including legislation to ensure that new build properties come with gigabit-capable broadband, and extra government funding to connect the hardest to reach premises via the BDUK programme.
However, today’s announcement is a positive move in reviewing further regulations to ensure the 2025 target is met. Research from the National Infrastructure Commission suggests infrastructure re-use could lead to an £8 billion cost saving for companies deploying gigabit-capable broadband.
Minister for Digital Infrastructure Matt Warman said:
“It makes both economic and common sense for firms rolling out gigabit broadband to make use of the infrastructure that already exists across the country. This will help them avoid the high costs and disruption of having to dig or build their own and ultimately benefit consumers.
“We've seen progress with improved access to Openreach’s ducts and poles, but other telecoms companies have large networks that are not easily accessible. We want them, and utility companies, to do more to open these up and help speed up getting next-generation broadband to people across the UK.”
Today’s announcement launches a call for evidence as part of a review of the Access to Infrastructure (ATI) Regulations 2016, which enables sharing of information about access to physical infrastructure across the utility, transport and communications sectors. The review will assess if there are changes that could be made to the regulations to further boost investment in infrastructure, and encourage the use of infrastructure sharing to increase the availability of gigabit-capable broadband.
The Call for Evidence on the Review of the Access to Infrastructure Regulations is open now, and closes on 4 September 2020.
techUK will be responding to the consultation. If you are interested in participating in this response please contact Matt Evans.