Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by Broadband Stakeholder Group (GIB 88)

Overview

The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) submits this written evidence following the oral evidence provided by BSG CEO Pamela Learmonth to the Committee on 20 November 2012.

As commented upon in that oral evidence, the BSG hoped to come back to the Committee with further detail on its views on Clause 7 of the Bill following the publication of the DCMS consultation on this issue. Unfortunately the publication of this consultation is still pending as of 6 December. As such we are grateful to take this opportunity to confirm our overall views on the need for and intent of Clause 7 and clarify some of the comments we issued on 20 November 2012.

The purpose of Clause 7

We understand that the intention of Clause 7 is to provide for the amendment of the Electronics Communications Code in order to allow:

· Easier installation of broadband street cabinets by removing the need for prior approval from the local council in all areas bar Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI)

· Installation of overhead broadband lines in any areas without the need for planning or other permission

Why these proposed changes are necessary and welcome

We fully support the objective of government to take steps to reduce both the bureaucracy and cost of broadband rollout and such tangible proposals can make a real difference on the ground and influence the scale and pace of private sector investment and rollout.

a) Broadband street cabinets

We welcome the proposal to aid installation of broadband street cabinets, as experience to date shows a number of issues and delays caused by the current planning regime, including a lack of consistency across different local authorities and decision-making being taken to the absolute deadline. These circumstances result in a delay by process which runs counter to the government’s aims to encourage efficient broadband rollout and can delay connectivity being provided to local residents and businesses.

At the Committee on 20 November we stated that "BT has said that some 2,500 cabinets have been taken out of their programmes as a result of the current planning regime."  Although there is the potential for some 2500 cabinets to be impacted if the current planning rules remain across rollout areas in the "final third" of the UK, the number actually impacted to date is actually some 700 cabinets. We would therefore like to remove any potential confusion from the record and highlight that the number of cabinets taken out of BT’s commercial programme to date is around 700 and not the 2500 cited at the Committee.

This projection of potentially affected cabinets does however underline the importance of these proposals in ensuring efficient broadband rollout.

b) Overhead broadband lines

In respect of the plans to allow easier deployment of overhead broadband lines, the BSG also firmly welcomes these proposals.

As referenced in the oral evidence provided on 20 November, the experience of Virgin Media in trialing such deployment showed great potential benefits. The trial that took place in the village of Woolhampton in Berkshire in 2010 showed that this method of deployment could realise great cost savings and hence could potentially incentivise further private sector investment.

However the process also highlighted the restrictions and constraints incumbent in overhead deployment, particularly in relation to planning laws. In this instance these were mitigated as the trial was contained to private land and direct arrangements were established with trialists. However that approach would not be able to be easily replicated on a wider or national basis.

Accordingly the proposal to ease planning restrictions on overhead deployment removes this barrier and provides industry with the opportunity to utilise alternative deployment methods to get improved connectivity out to a wider variety of customers.

Responding to other stakeholder concerns

We have noted some concerns articulated by other stakeholders that Clause 7 could lead to a "planning free for all" with local needs ignored or sidelined.

The BSG would like to reiterate that a planning free for all is not what the broadband industry is calling for. Furthermore we understand that the proposals for implementing Clause 7 would set out a 28 day notification period and the development of a code of practice which would provide mechanisms for dealing with some of the concerns expressed.

Conclusion

This short piece of written evidence encapsulates our key views and also clarifies some of the points we made in oral evidence.

It is being submitted now in line with the Committee’s deadline however we will be making fuller representations once the associated DCMS consultation is published.

December 2012

Prepared 10th December 2012