Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by BT (GIB 87)

Growth and Infrastructure Bill: provisions to enable roll out of high-speed fibre broadband

BT welcomes the Government’s recent stated commitment to address issues to help fast-track the rollout of high-speed fibre broadband. The Growth and Infrastructure Bill plays a critical part in that. Clause 7 of the Bill is designed to facilitate the provision of communications infrastructure. It makes provision in relation to section 109 of the Communications Act 2003, which relates to the Electronic Communications Code. Specifically we endorse the proposed amendment to the Electronic Communications Code to enshrine the need to promote economic growth in the planning regime. The Bill will, with appropriate secondary legislation, deliver greatly needed relaxation of some of the current planning restrictions and boost communications providers’ ability to deploy this critical fibre infrastructure at pace.

Context to the issue: roll out of high-speed fibre broadband

BT is committed to make high-speed fibre broadband widely available across the UK, investing £2.5bn in its commercial rollout programme. Our fibre broadband services are already available to 12 million homes and the programme is on track to deliver to two-thirds of UK premises by spring 2014. We are also bidding for public funds and working with local authorities, through the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) initiative, to extend the network into areas where the commercial case for investment is more challenging; this will bring enormous economic and social benefits to millions and potentially enable high-speed broadband to reach beyond 90% of premises.

However, street-furniture planning regulations have delayed roll out in some areas. If there is a delay in these regulations, this will in turn hold up installation of the network, meaning hundreds of thousands of people will not have access to fast broadband and they, and the economy, will lose out. Appropriate changes to legislation that impact on planning permission will contribute greatly towards speeding up all commercial deployment of fibre broadband and the Government’s aims for as wide a coverage as possible of the technology across the UK.

Why broadband matters: the economic benefits of high-speed broadband

High-speed broadband can transform local economies, businesses and households, whether in cities or rural economies. A recent report by analysts Regeneris Consulting estimates that high-speed broadband announced by BT across Norfolk and Suffolk, for example, will create almost £1.3bn in GVA (gross value added, the measure of the value of goods and services produced in an economy) over the next 15 years, or £86m annually, for that local economy. This is through improved business performance, new businesses created and increased homeworking. In London, Regeneris estimates a GVA of £19.8bn through high-speed broadband announced to date. Taken on a national scale, every £1 invested in high-speed broadband creates nearly £15 in GVA for the UK economy.

Examples of the type of work businesses can carry out from even rural locations, enabled through high-speed broadband, include supplying film content to hotels worldwide, the ability to offer hotel and public-house customers guests with high-bandwidth wi-fi, remote monitoring through CCTV, uploading and downloading big graphics files and running sophisticated ecommerce sites aimed at customers worldwide. Audiences for these businesses are not just within their local economies, they are not even just the UK; they are helping Britain export globally.

How the Growth and Infrastructure Bill will help
Clearly, high-speed broadband offers huge opportunities - but there is a basic barrier to realising these: the existing prior notification planning requirement, where applied outside of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, for siting of broadband cabinets. BT consults widely with local authorities and other stakeholders, and sites its street cabinets as sensitively as possible within quite narrow constraints (ie, all high-speed broadband cabinets are ideally sited within 30-50m of the existing cabinet serving homes with existing phone services, and at most 100m apart). However, Openreach, which is responsible for installing the new network, frequently encounters difficulties such as:

• being asked for fees even just to meet with a local authority to discuss where cabinets are to be sited

• lack of consistency in applying planning principles between planning officers

• lack of consultation from a local authority before it rejects an application

• decision-making taken to the absolute deadline

• planning rejections against the wishes of local residents and businesses

• where there is consultation, information on economic benefits is often not provided.

Clearly these barriers have proved damaging to our ability to install the network, causing frustration for communications providers, businesses and home consumers. They cause significant delays in making the service available, drive up the cost of deployment and cause planned delivery to some areas to be abandoned altogether, potentially wasting the huge potential gains for local economies. It is simply not cost-effective, nor a good use of high-speed broadband investment, to incur extra costs in order to overcome planning issues.

If this situation continues into the ‘final third’ it risks wasting public money - diverting money and resources from the Government’s funding pot that could otherwise have been used to deploy the network further and faster to dealing with bureaucracy and inappropriately applied planning rules.

The impact on deployment remains significant as a result of the current planning regime, and the number of rejections is likely to increase significantly as deployment reaches further into rural areas, given the higher proportion of conservation areas, etc. The net impact of this is that hundreds of thousands of customers will be at risk of being excluded from high-speed broadband services where planning constraint prevent deployment.

Conclusion
The Growth and Infrastructure Bill is urgently required in order to help the rollout of high-speed broadband services and fulfil the plans central and local government are putting in place. A sensitive, but consistent and uniform application of current street furniture planning regulations, as clause 7 proposes, would help achieve this.

December 2012

Prepared 10th December 2012