Broadband ‘partnership’ in the UK?

It is interesting to see the “partnership approach” between the state and telecoms companies published by today by the FT, suggested to supply the UK with the next generation of super-fast broadband, according to Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator.

In a consultation paper, Ofcom noted that it was “highly unlikely that the private sector will deliver truly national coverage” and suggested that the government look at geographic areas that are identified as remaining under-served in the future, and play a part in the coordination of the rollout. This assessment is highly in line with our post “It could cost up to £29bn to provide fibre-based broadband to the whole of the UK”.

As refered in the article, upgrading to the next generation of broadband access mainly involves replacing copper wire with fibre-optic cabling, either to street cabinets or to the home. This will increase download speeds to 50-100 megabytes per second, compared with the current rates of 8-24 mbps.

The report also highlighted the use of alternatives to fibre, including wireless technologies such as WiMAX and LTE, suggesting that these technologies may be used for remote and rural locations. Ofcom welcomed the report earlier this month to the government by Francesco Caio, the former head of Cable and Wireless, which made several recommendations, the most radical of which was to relax the rules on running fibre-optic cables overhead, instead of burying them underground.

Mr Caio also suggested that the overall costs of fibre rollout could be reduced by £1bn if progress was made in coordinating streetworks between utilities. An estimated 80 per cent of the fibre rollout costs are civil engineering works. He added that the case for subsidy or regulatory change was “weak at best” but the government needed to “act now” and “avoid complacency”.

BT announced in July that it would spend £1.5bn on rolling out fibre to 10m homes by 2012, and Virgin Media said in January it would have high-speed connections to 12m homes by 2009. However, Ofcom noted that “these upgrades will cover less than 50 per cent of the population, and it is likely their footprints will overlap considerably.”

The UK lags behind other countries in rolling out fibre optic cables for high-speed internet access. Japan and Korea are the world leaders in broadband, with extensive fibre networks, and many European countries are catching up.

Nice reading

About this entry