National Infrastructure Commission calls for full fibre in the UK by 2033

Fibre Cables

The government's National Infrastructure Commission has called for full fibre broadband coverage in the UK by 2033.

The commission's first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment, published today, calls for the government to "devise a National Broadband Plan by Spring 2019, to deliver full fibre connections across the whole of the country, including those in rural areas this should ensure that the technology is available to 15 million homes and businesses by 2025, 25 million by 2030, and all homes and businesses by 2033".

It said to achieve this goal, Ofcom should "promote network competition to drive the commercial rollout of full fibre, by deregulating where competition is effective and guaranteeing a fair bet on risky investments before regulating any uncompetitive areas".

It added that the government should part subsidise rollout to rural and remote communities, beginning by 2020, starting with the hardest to reach areas.

The report also said that the government and Ofcom should allow for copper switch-off by 2025 and take action to cut the cost of full fibre deployment.

This would include the government ensuring that the processes for obtaining wayleaves and connecting new builds are the same for digital infrastructure as other utilities by 2019.

It also said that local government should designate digital champions' to improve telecoms processes such as street work permissions and access to publicly owned assets. "Ofcom should monitor the accessibility of Openreach's duct and pole infrastructure by levels of usage," said the report's authors.

According to Malcolm Dowden, Legal Director at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, the government proposals to extend broadband connections to all homes and businesses face a central economic challenge.

"Initial roll-out targets for electronic communications providers were set by reference to population percentages rather than geographic coverage. Predictably, investment focused on more densely populated areas. Costs per connection inevitably increase in more remote or sparsely populated areas," he said.

He added that while a focus on homes and businesses are both inevitable and understandable, it does not necessarily address other connectivity problems - for example, poor signal strength and "not spots" along transport routes.

"The NIA recognises that connectivity is now a key utility for business and home life. It provides a valuable focus for government action on improved connection. However, it is part of a long-standing debate that can be rendered into a key question: who pays when the cost of rural connection so significantly outstrips easier urban connections?" he said.

While the NIA is calling for massive leaps forward in the deployment of full fibre, another report out today - by Cable - showed the UK is lagging behind when it comes to broadband speeds. Currently, Britain stands in 35th place in the global speed league, with countries such as Singapore leading the charge for fast downloads.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.