UK to allow broadband infrastructure sharing

The UK’s new government will allow operators to use other companies’ infrastructure to roll out new fibre optic networks in an attempt to encourage the development of high-speed broadband services. The announcement comes as the FTTH Council warned that the UK was in danger of lagging behind the rest of Europe in terms of fibre investment.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt criticised the fact that nearly three million UK households could not access 2Mbps broadband services. The government now plans to ensure this speed as a minimum to all households. He said that by sharing infrastructure the costs associated with digging up roads to lay new fibre would be reduced. He also said money that had been earmarked for pilot regional news services would now be used to support the roll out of high speed broadband (see separate story). The new government will scrap the previous government’s plans to create regional news services for broadcaster ITV, he said.

Hunt’s comments came as a market forecast commissioned by industry body the FTTH Council Europe predicted that the UK would be the last nation in Europe to reach “fibre maturity” – defined as 20% of households having a broadband subscription over a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network. The study forecast that the UK would not reach this milestone until 2020, between two and four years later than the other major G20 European economies of France, Germany and Italy. “In terms of FTTH deployment, the UK has barely got off the starting blocks,” the Council said.  There are estimated to be less than 5,000 fibre subscribers in the UK, compared with over 500,000 homes in Sweden. Eastern European countries, including Lithuania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia have more FTTH subscribers than the UK, both as a percentage of total households and in absolute numbers, the council said.

The Council’s UK members identified various reasons why the UK has been slow to deploy FTTH, including lack of clarity on key policy issues such as infrastructure sharing, lack of competitively priced backhaul connectivity for new networks, and consumer confusion over the marketing of broadband services.

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