Rural broadband and digital-only services - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

3  Broadband delivery

Current infrastructure

27. Most broadband in the UK is currently delivered from a local telephone exchange, through a Fixed Line Access Network (FLAN), usually made of copper wires to a local street cabinet. Further copper wires connect the street cabinet to homes or businesses.[27] BT's copper broadband network covers more than 99% of premises in the UK. [28] This network provides the 'basic' 2 Mbps broadband access.

28. Copper wires have two main disadvantages for broadband delivery: the longer the copper wire between the street cabinet and the premise, the slower the speed received; and increased usage can significantly reduce the speed delivered to individual premises.[29]

29. Superfast broadband is delivered by 'upgrading' street cabinets. An upgrade means that the wires between the telephone exchange and the local street cabinet have been changed from copper wires to fibre optic cables. Fibre optic cables allow faster broadband and better reliability than copper wires. The remaining distance between the cabinet and individual premises is still connected by copper wires. This is called 'Fibre to the Cabinet' (FTTC) and is often described as a 'hybrid' fibre solution. FTTC is being rolled out by BT across the country as phase one of the BDUK programme.

30. FTTC does not fully address the problem of slow speeds caused by long distances of copper wire between the premise and the street cabinet.[30] An alternative solution is Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) which is a full fibre optic cable connection between the telephone exchange, street cabinet and premise, with no need to use copper wires at any point. Optical cables are cheaper than copper cables, but the advantage is mitigated by the huge cost it would take to update all the telecoms systems to each individual premise.[31] BT's Sean Williams stated that an FTTP solution would cost five times as much and take five times as long as the current FTTC method, although BDUK's Chris Townsend admitted that this would be the "ideal" solution. [32]

31. Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) is an efficient, cost-effective method of improving broadband in areas where premises are located close to their local street cabinet. However, this 'one-size-fits-all' approach to broadband delivery does not take into account the varied topography across the 44 local areas receiving broadband upgrade. FTTC allows those within a short distance of a local cabinet to experience the benefit of an upgrade to superfast broadband but can leave those already a long distance from the cabinet, and therefore experiencing slower broadband, with limited or no material change in service.

Alternative technology


32. There is concern that "BT is only interested in fixed-line solutions".[33] Satellite broadband provides an alternative to fixed-line broadband options. It is recognised as reaching areas that, for geographical reasons, the current broadband rollout programme cannot. BT state that the commercial availability of satellite broadband means that everyone now has access to 2 Mbps of broadband. This has been sufficient for the European Commissioner to declare that the objective of at least 2 Mbps broadband being available for all has been accomplished.[34]

33. However, satellite solutions do not solve the problem of poor coverage in all rural areas. There are few companies offering satellite broadband commercially in the UK. Satellite broadband also requires an initial up-front cost as well as a monthly charge. Later in this report we discuss how to ensure satellite is an affordable alternative.

34. Furthermore, written evidence indicates that there are some areas where even satellite broadband cannot reach.[35] George Eustice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Farming, Food and Marine Environment, recognised that satellite "probably won't do it", when it comes to reaching the final 5%. He went on to say:

The drawback of the satellite-based systems is that they tend to be slightly less reliable. There is sometimes a delay, and it slows them down if there are too many people on them.[36]

35. Satellite technology provides a potential alternative to those in remote areas where fixed-line delivery of broadband is impracticable or can achieve only very low speeds. However, it will not fill all the gaps. Satellite technology is not widely developed on a commercial scale in the UK and the technology itself can suffer from delay and reliability issues.


36. We have heard frustration about the situation in which a local street cabinet has been upgraded, but most connected premises are too far away to benefit.[37] Sometimes such premises may experience enhanced speeds but do not reach superfast service speeds. This appears to be one of the main failures of the current programme.

37. Fibre to the Remote Node (FTTrN) has emerged as an alternative to FTTC. In this system, a fibre optic cable is used between the telephone exchange and the local street cabinet, then FTTrN links a further fibre optic cable to a significantly smaller 'remote node'. This remote node acts like a small street cabinet, and it can be positioned on nearby telegraph poles. This reduces the distance using copper wires between the street cabinet and premise, which is key to reducing speed loss.

38. The fact that Fibre to the Cabinet is not a suitable solution in every circumstance or every community means that alternative solutions, such as wider satellite coverage or Fibre to the Remote Node, are necessary. Alternative solutions are required not only to ensure that the current commitments of basic and superfast broadband are met but also to ensure that the infrastructure being deployed is future proof and able to meet demands for increasing broadband speeds.

27   Q27; Note: Some premises are still connected to the street cabinet by aluminium  Back

28   BT (RBB 0091) para 1 Back

29   Q12  Back

30   Roy Giles-Morris (RBB 0006) para 3 Back

31   Q207  Back

32   Q205 Back

33   Throwley Parish Council (RBB 0084) para 6 Back

34   Q39  Back

35   Compton Bassett Parish Council (RBB 0059) para 1  Back

36   Q228  Back

37   Central Bedfordshire Council (RBB 0089) para 6  Back

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Prepared 3 February 2015