CityFibre welcomes the publication of the Government’s Digital Strategy – which once again signals the need for the UK to move towards a full fibre future – but argues that firm targets and an alignment of government policy and sector regulation behind the goal of greater infrastructure competition is needed if the vision is to be delivered.
Today’s long-awaited Digital Strategy outlines the Government’s plan to become a leading digital nation, building on the UK’s existing digital strengths and maximising the potential of emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, to drive up productivity, remain internationally competitive and realise opportunity across the country.
The Government once again recognises that “first and foremost, being a digital leader depends on being connected” and that “the future of high-speed and high-quality connectivity lies in deeper, more extensive fibre networks”. To deliver this goal, the Strategy reconfirms the £1bn programme of funding “to explore and encourage next generation digital infrastructure, including full fibre and 5G” that was announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement. It also includes a commitment to work with regulators and industry so that “broadband adverts accurately reflect reality”, crucially ensuring that adverts apply “terms like ‘fibre’ only when full fibre solutions are used”, as well as announcing a new Business Connectivity Forum to bring stakeholders together “to help businesses access fast, affordable and reliable broadband”. However, the Strategy falls short of providing details on how this vision will be delivered and by when.
Mark Collins, CityFibre’s Director of Strategy and Policy, commented: “The Government has once again outlined a clear direction of travel for the UK – extensive full fibre networks capable of delivering the transformational gigabit connectivity needed to be a leading digital nation. As the company behind the UK’s growing ranks of Gigabit Cities, CityFibre is fully supportive of this vision. With the UK lagging behind its international competitors on full fibre deployment, we now urgently need to create the right incentives for investment in new infrastructure, rather than continuing to focus on the UK’s legacy copper network. This means firm targets for deployment, ensuring that the goal of full fibre is embedded across all areas of central and local government policy, including in the upcoming Industrial Strategy, and ensuring that policy and regulation are pulling in the same direction – for example on consumer advertising of fibre broadband products and telecoms regulation.”
Stuart Orr, Advisory Partner at EY, commented, “To fully realise the measures announced in the government’s digital strategy paper, the planned increased investment in 4G and faster broadband by 2020 is essential. While the UK scores well compared to other markets in roll out of ‘entry level’ fibre broadband, some countries and their economies are already benefiting from extensive coverage of ‘full fibre’. At the same time, a continued focus on connectivity speeds in rural areas must remain a priority for providers as the government pursues its target of the UK becoming a ‘digital nation’.”