An Update on Rural Connectivity Contents

4Broadband

Box 2: Summary of key terms

Broadband services to premises in the UK are delivered via two types of infrastructure:

  • Fixed line infrastructure provides static broadband connections via networks of copper, fibre-optic or co-axial, cables. The main technologies used are Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) and Fibre to the Premises (FTTP or “full-fibre”).
  • Wireless infrastructure provides internet connectivity through mobile (3G and 4G) or satellite technology. Satellite services are provided via either fixed or mobile receivers.

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) is still the main technology used to provide superfast broadband. Fibre optic cables are used from the telephone exchange to street cabinets and then existing copper lines are used from the cabinet to the premises. This technology can provide speeds of up to 76 Mbps, but speed decreases with distance from the cabinet.

Fibre to the Premises (FTTP or “Full-fibre”) is a technology where the fibre optic cable runs all the way to the premises or home, without needing to go via a cabinet. Full-fibre networks can deliver speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second (Gpbs). Speed is not affected by the distance from the exchange.

Full-fibre infrastructure is also important for mobile broadband, particularly future 5G networks, because the masts that transmit mobile broadband must be connected to a core internet network. The connection between a mobile mast and the core network is called “backhaul”.

The power to legislate for telecommunications (including broadband services) is reserved to the UK Government. However, the practical delivery of broadband roll-out is led by local bodies in England and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means that local bodies in England and the devolved administrations can develop their own broadband strategies to guide infrastructure build in their region, and set roll-out targets that are more ambitious than those set at the UK Government level.

Source: House of Commons Library87

33.Building Digital UK (previously “Broadband Delivery UK”, referred to as BDUK) is the part of DCMS responsible for delivering broadband to the UK.88 BDUK is currently pursuing improved broadband delivery across the UK via three main policies. First, it is seeking to ensure that everyone across the UK has a right to request a minimum broadband connection via a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO), set to be introduced in 2020. Second, it is supporting investment to provide increased superfast broadband coverage beyond the 95 per cent level achieved in December 2017.89 Third, it is responsible for the roll out of local full-fibre networks.90 This chapter examines these policies in turn.

The Universal Service Obligation (USO)

34.The Digital Economy Act 2017 established a UK-wide minimum standard for access to broadband. This Universal Service Obligation (USO) provides eligible consumers and businesses a legal right to request a broadband connection of at least 10Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1Mbps.91 It is intended to act as a “safety net” for areas where superfast or full-fibre deployment make take longer to deliver.92

35.As of January 2019, approximately 600,000 premises (2.1% of the UK) had existing connections below the USO criteria (see Chapter 1, Figure 1). Consumers and businesses are eligible to request a connection under the USO if they do not have access to a decent broadband connection (i.e. 10Mbps), or the only available decent broadband connection available costs more than £45 per month; and the connection will cost no more than £3,400 to build (the customer can choose to pay the excess above that amount).93 To reduce the cost of getting a connection, it is possible for consumers in a given area to aggregate their demand.94 Ofcom’s analysis in 2016 stated the £3,400 threshold will enable coverage of up to 99.8 per cent of UK premises.95 Ofcom estimated that of the 60,000 premises (0.2 per cent) above the threshold:

36.The USO is set for rollout in March 2020. Ofcom is responsible for implementing the USO, having outlined the specification for the USO in technical advice to the Government in 2016 based on the average needs of a typical household.97 Ofcom confirmed the final details for the rollout in June 2019, which designated BT (and KCOM in Kingston-upon-Hull) as the Universal Service Providers responsible for taking requests for connection and building the necessary infrastructure to deliver them.98 Under the Digital Economy Act 2017, the Secretary of State has the power to direct Ofcom to review the USO at any time.99 There is a requirement to review the USO when the uptake of superfast broadband reaches at least 75 per cent of the UK.100

37.Overall, in our evidence there was wide approval for the principle of the USO.101 However, there were several broad criticisms regarding the USO’s specification, as well as concerns over the proposals for its implementation and delivery.

Poor download and upload speeds

38.There was concern that, given the increasing speeds people are using every year, the USO specification of 10 Mbps was set too low:

Alan Brown: Given that Openreach says the speeds people need increase by 30% to 40% each year, how soon is it before the 10 Mbps becomes obsolete? You said it is a bare minimum, but how soon is it before that 10 Mbps really becomes inadequate?

Jeremy Leggett, Rural Policy Adviser, ACRE: At the time it is implemented, I should think.102

Graham Biggs, CEO, Rural Services Network, agreed that the 10Mbps speed was “virtually obsolete” already given that it was modelled on the minimum standard for an average family and not a business, so by the time it was implemented there would be a desire to change it.103 Mr Paolo Gerli and Professor Jason Whalley noted that the USO speed of 10Mbps was “considerably slower” than average speeds within the UK, which have risen from 12Mbps in 2012 to 46.2Mbps in 2017, and argued the USO would “not close the digital divide that exists.”104

39.The CLA disagreed that the USO specification was too unambitious, arguing that the minimum speed was an “excellent start.”105 It argued instead that the “importance and principle of the USO” had to be understood, as a legal right to a broadband connection with a sufficient speed.106 BT acknowledged that it may be necessary to review the current USO specification as demand for higher speed increases, but stated that “a USO compliant service can satisfy much of the demand currently in the market”.107 BT also noted that the current USO service specification was one of the highest in Europe with the equivalent in Spain and Finland set at 1 Mbps.108

Not a “universal” service

40.Mark Bridgeman, Vice President of the CLA, criticized the £3,400 cap on the cost of connections, stating that it would “not be enough to get to the final few.”109 The Rural Services Network stated that the £3,400 cap placed “a cost penalty on isolated rural customers” and therefore discriminated against them.110 The NFU expressed a specific concern that it was set too low to permit the USO to be delivered to many farm properties.111 It suggested that consumers expected the USO to be targeted at these very properties “given the spirit of the Government’s announcement” to ensure that “no-one is left behind”.112 The Law Society of Scotland also expressed concern that the USO was not in fact a “universal” service, and predicted that this would have a particularly negative impact in a Scottish context where there are a higher proportion of remote rural communities than in other parts of the UK.113

41.Addressing the estimated 99.8% coverage figure for the USO stated in 2016, Lindsey Fussell, Group Director Consumer and External Relations, Ofcom, told us that it did not know the exact number of properties that currently fell outside the £3,400 threshold.114 She explained that raising the limit slightly would “not necessarily bring in lots more properties” given the steep cost curve to reach properties above approximately 99.5 per cent of coverage.115 DCMS explained that the Government’s rationale for the £3,400 threshold was to strike “a proportionate balance between providing widespread coverage and mitigating the potential financial impact on industry (and consumers)”.116

Implementation and delivery

42.The Countryside Alliance expressed concern about delivery of the USO, suggesting that the figures quoted by Government under reported the number of homes receiving less than the minimum service.117 It argued that lessons needed to be learnt from previous BDUK projects over the accuracy of data, and that further modelling work was required to ensure the USO really delivers.118 Mark Bridgeman told us that the USO needed to be delivered “as soon as possible” and stressed that there needed to be a clear system in place for households and businesses on the process to request the USO, and the time it would take.119 Consumer group Which? expressed disappointment that only 80% of USO connections needed to be delivered within 12 months “when many people have already waited far too long to get a decent broadband connection”.120 The Local Government Association expressed concern over how competitively priced a USO service would be, given that BT and KCOM (which only operates in a limited area) were the only designated universal service providers.121

43.There were also concerns that implementing the broadband USO might happen at the expense of completing other activity, such as the BDUK (superfast broadband) programme, and the Scottish Government’s R100 programme.122 Mike Kiely, Founder of the advisory organisation The Bit Commons, stated that the USO was “mis-timed”, potentially substituting BDUK’s superfast broadband work with a “lesser service”; he argued it added nothing which could not be planned using existing funding.123

44.Of the approximately 600,000 premises that currently cannot get the USO minimum service, BT has assessed that its “Fixed Wireless Access” (FWA) mobile service “4G EE Home”, can already connect around 75% (450,000) with a commercial service that would exceed the minimum standard.124 BT has stated that typical speeds for this service are around 30Mbps, with some tests delivering speeds of over 100Mbps.125 BT has also agreed with Ofcom that when it is the only provider in an area, it will offer at least one USO compliant service (FWA or fixed) at no more than £45 a month, with only inflation related increases permitted.126 For the remainder, BT explained that it planned to extend fibre services through Openreach. BT also explained that prior to March 2020, it was introducing a designated USO customer service centre.127 Through this centre, people would be able to request a USO service, and find out if they were eligible for the service (for example, under the £3,400 threshold) within 30 days.128

45.Concern was expressed about the reliance on alternative technologies, such as Fixed Wireless Access, to deliver the USO. Mike Kiely, The Bit Commons, suggested that, given these were “rural areas where upgrades may happen once in a generation”, radio-based solutions had more limitations and higher operational costs than fixed fibre solutions once installed.129 This “safety-net” could therefore, in effect, also impose a “ceiling” on what premises could receive.130 More broadly, the NFU warned that the current USO proposal could “distort the developing rural superfast broadband market”, delivering a “second class service” that was not “future proofed”.131 It stressed that the USO should form one part of an integrated approach that ensured all farmers and rural communities could take full advantages of the opportunities offered by a digital economy.132

46.DCMS has stated “the government is committed to keeping the USO specification under review, to ensure that it keeps pace with consumers’ needs as they evolve over time” and that “any review would look not just at the minimum download and upload speeds, but at all aspects of the USO specification”.133 On being asked whether the USO should be urgently reviewed, Margot James MP told us that it was “not appropriate to review the whole specification before it comes into effect” as such a review might delay its introduction.134 She challenged the arguments that the current specifications could be a barrier to harder-to-reach areas, stressing that it was intended as “minimum” and a “safety net”, and did not conflict with any of the Government’s other programmes.135 She did however accept that the service was not truly universal, with some people excluded by the cost threshold, and that the term “universal” should be qualified.136 Lord Gardiner stated that Defra was not “satisfied” with the situation, and reiterated that Government “should not rest until we have universal, meaning universal as an opportunity for everyone.”137

47.The principle of access to a universal minimum broadband service via the Universal Service Obligation (USO) is important. It provides an essential legal platform to ensure universal coverage. We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to delivering a broadband USO. However, the current specification of the USO demonstrates a lack of ambition for rural areas. The upload speed has been set too low, especially for businesses, and it is likely that the 10Mbps minimum download speed will be obsolete at the time of, or soon after, introduction. We are also concerned that the £3,400 payment threshold means that the USO is not truly “universal” and that ineligible residents will feel misled by the Government’s stated ambitions to ensure that no one is left behind. The Government should commit to an immediate review of the USO specification as soon as possible to ensure it is suitably ambitious for rural areas. The review should determine appropriate upload and download speeds and review the reasonable cost criteria to maximise rural rollout of broadband. The review should be concluded as soon as is practicable to ensure initial roll out of broadband via the USO is not obsolete.

48.The USO is one of several measures to deliver universal broadband coverage. It is important that implementation of the USO does not come at the expense of or replace other rollout initiatives, such as Building Digital UK’s remaining superfast broadband work, the Scottish Government’s R100 programme, and the planned roll out of full-fibre infrastructure. Crossover funding from the USO obligations to the Scottish Government R100 programme needs to be assessed and agreed for premises that are being addressed within the R100 programme but otherwise would be served via the USO. A co-ordinated approach between Government and commercial service providers is essential to ensure residents take up the available services, and do not get trapped with a slower alternative service than is available. The USO must act as a safety net for minimum broadband service delivery, not a ceiling. To protect consumers Ofcom should also set a mandatory requirement that USO provision should not cost more than £45 per month (adjusted for inflation).

Take up of superfast broadband

49.The challenges of geography, population density and private sector financial incentives to delivering superfast broadband to rural areas are well recognised. Cost characteristics make provision of broadband infrastructure, particularly in the “last mile” (the final part of the network reaching the consumer, which in rural areas can be several miles), less economic in remote areas.138 2018 research commissioned by Amazon found that commercial roll out of broadband networks has focussed on urban centres, where economies of scale can be achieved by the network providers.139 Rural areas, where network infrastructure must stretch over longer distances and where it serves fewer customers, have proved financially challenging.140 The Government addressed this challenge primarily via BDUK’s Superfast Broadband Programme, which saw approximately £1.7 billion invested in the subsidised roll out of superfast broadband to uncommercial areas.141 The 2018 NFU broadband and mobile survey presented a positive trend in farmers accessing speeds of 24Mbps over the past four years, and noted that once farmers receive this improved connection “their usage, importance and reliance on the service” increased.142 BDUK’s target of superfast speeds (of at least 24Mbps) available to 95% of premises has now been met.143

50.However, despite increasing access to superfast broadband services, our evidence highlighted the fact that consumers do not always sign up where they are available. According to Ofcom’s last Connected Nations report, although 94% of premises have access to superfast broadband, only 45% of premises have signed up to them.144 Similarly, 98% of premises have access to a decent broadband service, but only 65% of premises have an active broadband service that delivers a download speed higher than 10Mbps.145

51.The CLA commented that the low level of take up for faster broadband suggested “either an unwillingness to adopt new technology or a lack of awareness as to the benefits digital connectivity provides”.146 The Rural Services Network highlighted some key barriers within rural communities restricting engagement with digital technologies; these included physical access to equipment to enable citizens to get online, and the skills, confidence and motivation (a lack of interest or the failure to see the benefits) to engage online.147 Openreach stated that the low level of take up reduced their investment case, both for superfast and full-fibre services, and also denied local bodies additional “gainshare” revenue - a share of future revenues from providers to the public sector based on greater than expected adoption of services.148

52.The challenges of delivering superfast broadband in rural areas are clear and well recognised. Whilst the Government should be commended for the increase in access to superfast broadband, take up of these services is still below 50 percent. A lack of awareness of the availability of faster broadband services and its benefits is therefore holding back both businesses and communities, particularly in rural areas. The low level of take up is also slowing down the final roll out of superfast broadband, and undermining the investment case for rolling out full-fibre more widely. This is likely to disproportionately affect rural areas where returns are likely to be lower. The Government must continue to work with Ofcom, industry and stakeholders to tackle the issue of low take up of available superfast broadband services, to ensure communities get the benefits and the full value of the public investment in infrastructure is realised. In tackling the issue of low take up, the Government should assess why many rural households do not access available broadband services. There may be particular issues affecting rural households, such as additional utility costs (for example, gas and electricity costs) causing affordability issues. It is important that the cost of connection does not become another factor exacerbating the urban rural digital divide.

53.Delivery of the USO and full-fibre infrastructure should not distract from the delivery of superfast broadband to the final 5 per cent. Setting population targets for coverage is a beneficial way for ensuring as many people as possible are reached. However, such targets can also lead to a feeling of people being left behind in the hardest to reach areas. When setting initial population targets for coverage, Government must have an understanding of how many people and which geographical areas will be left behind and aim to prevent such an outcome.

Full-fibre roll out

54.Full-fibre broadband can deliver significantly faster download and upload speeds in excess of 1 Gbps and is also important for supporting 5G.149 Currently 7.1 per cent of the UK has access to a full-fibre service (see Chapter 1, Figure 1). In July 2018, the Government published its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which set out proposals for upgrading the UK’s existing copper network to full-fibre infrastructure.150 The Government has since announced numerous policy and funding announcements relating to the roll out of full-fibre (See Box 3). The FTIR aims to promote commercial investment by encouraging a competitive market to build fibre infrastructure.151 The FTIR also proposed an “outside in” approach to rolling out full-fibre, meaning that rural areas would be given equal priority with urban areas.152

Box 3: Government funding for full-fibre networks

There are currently three UK-wide Government funded programmes delivering full-fibre networks. The programmes are delivered by BDUK and are grouped under an overarching banner called “the UK Fibre Programme”.153

(1)The Local Full-Fibre Networks Programme (LFFN) aims to stimulate demand for full-fibre networks across the UK. It supports a voucher scheme focussed on small and medium sized businesses and provides grants to local public sector bodies on a competitive basis. The programme includes £287 million investment.154

(2)The Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme (RGCP) is the first programme providing funding specific to specific rural areas by the “outside-in” approach. It includes a voucher scheme for rural premises as well as a trials scheme to connect public sector buildings such as schools and hospitals in rural areas. £200 million funding has been allocated to the programme, drawn from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).155

(3)The final stages of the superfast broadband programme will prioritise full-fibre connections. Delivery of the programme is led by local bodies in England and the devolved administrations.

Other funding initiatives to support investment in full-fibre include tax breaks for building full-fibre infrastructure and the Digital Infrastructure Fund.156

55.Most of the major internet service providers and network operators, including Openreach - the predominant infrastructure provider in rural areas, agree that full-fibre cables are the way forward for delivering improved fixed line connectivity.157 DCMS has stated that, whilst the market should be able to provide full-fibre for approximately 90% of UK premises, some remote areas (the remaining 10%) will require additional public support, which will cost between £3–5 billion.158 In March 2019, Ofcom launched a consultation on Promoting competition and investment in fibre networks, which closed on 7 June.159 Ofcom has proposed varying regulation in three different categories of geographic area, depending on the level of potential competition:

56.Stakeholders broadly welcomed the direction of the outside-in approach outlined in the FTIR, and proposals to increase Government intervention in non-competitive rural areas. However, they were less optimistic regarding its delivery. The CLA stated that it was “radical and long-sighted” but warned that “it still needs to be implemented and in order for this to be effective, such implementation has to be within an integrated and coherent framework where there is proper co-ordination”.161 ACRE commented that the outside-in approach was “somewhat late in the day” and reserved judgement towards its effectiveness “since details of the approach are only now becoming available.”162 The Countryside Alliance commented that Government’s recent funding announcements initiated by the FTIR were “essential” for closing the digital divide, but noted that Government had only committed funding from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) until 2021.163 It called for a “clear funding strategy that goes well beyond this 2021 funding commitment”.164 The Rural Services Network said the “proof of the pudding” of the Government’s commitment to the outside in principle would be in the Government’s spending review (assumed at the time to be a multi-year review).165

57.It was also suggested that some full-fibre upgrades could be funded by existing money which could be retrieved from commercial providers, such as BT. Malcolm Corbett, Chair of the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA), told us that “quite a lot of the money for the outside-in process” could be found “from money that is already in the system from BDUK”, noting that by some calculations, there were “some hundreds of millions of pounds of underspend sitting in BT’s accounts as capital deferral”.166 Mike Kiely, The Bit Commons, accused BT of “accounting treatment” which had aided “cost recovery but not network build in rural areas”.167 Mr Paolo Gerli and Professor Jason Whalley stated their research into BDUK had found a “lack of transparency” regarding the management of the clawback (i.e. money from public investment sitting in the accounts of commercial service providers).168 More broadly, they argued that the inconsistent management of the clawback across local projects highlighted “the need for a nationwide integrated approach” and “to ensure an efficient usage of public subsidies.”169

58.Ensuring rural areas have equal priority as urban areas is an important principle which we fully support. The Government appears to have learnt its lesson with the proposed outside-in approach in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR). However, we remain cautious about how the outside-in approach will be delivered in practice and await further funding and policy announcements. The proof of the Government’s commitment to the principle will be in the next multi-year spending review. Delivering full-fibre on time and cost-effectively will require a nationwide integrated approach and DCMS must learn the lessons from mistakes made in previous roll-out projects. The Government must ensure that there is efficient use of public subsidy and that any existing money sitting in the accounts of commercial service providers is used to fund infrastructure upgrades. The Government must also commit appropriate levels of funding across the life-time of the programme in the next spending review to ensure delivery of the ambitions outlined in the FTIR.

59.The UK Government should also consider additional opportunities to prioritise funding for rural mobile coverage and broadband rollout. The sale of 3G licences in 2000 raise £22.5 billion, which could have been used to prioritise rural areas. The sale of 4G licences in 2013 only raised £2.3 billion but this still could have a substantial rural contribution. Future licencing sales and income streams should be considered as a means to target non-commercially viable roll out of mobile and broadband connectivity.

Barriers to full-fibre roll out

60.In addition to issues with market regulation and competition, high deployment costs and other regulatory barriers make full-fibre rollout very difficult to do. Openreach stated that it “is committed to delivering a transformational upgrade to UK digital connectivity” with its own ambition to reach 15 million premises with full-fibre by the mid-2020s but stated that this relied on “having the policy and regulatory enablers in place.”170 DCMS has launched a “Barrier Busting Task Force” with the objective of removing barriers to the deployment of full-fibre and 5G, and had recently published the Digital Connectivity Portal providing guidance and case studies on deployment in local areas.171 DCMS has also launched numerous consultations, including on tenant access to full-fibre and on new build developments.172 However, Openreach highlighted that these had not progressed beyond consultation stage and delay of the outcomes was “holding back” full-fibre build.173

Wayleaves

61.A specific regulatory barrier that was identified for the roll out of full-fibre was existing legislation around wayleaves.174 A wayleave is a form of access agreement whereby a landowner grants a communications provider a licence to install, access and maintain equipment on their land.175 The Government has consulted on proposals addressing access to buildings to connect tenants requesting a service when faced with an unresponsive landlord.176 The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), whilst welcoming the proposed reforms as a key driver to accelerating rollout in multi-dwelling units, suggested that in their current form, they were more likely to impact urban and more densely populated areas than rural areas.177 It stressed the impact broader legislation could have if used to help internet service providers build across third party land in rural areas to reach more isolated properties.178 ISPA argued that currently absentee freeholders forced network builders “to make suboptimal decisions”, for example rerouting a network across roads to avoid going via a third-party property, leading to “greater disruption of the local community, further uncertainty for those expecting connections, and increased costs for the operator”.179 Similar calls for wayleave reform were made by Openreach and the Independent Networks Cooperative Association.180 The CLA identified the same issues with the engagement process between infrastructure providers and landowners, stating that “breakdowns in communication” were often the cause of delayed projects.181

Full-Fibre to new builds

62.The Local Government Association said it was increasingly apparent that the standard of digital connectivity provided to rural and remotely rural new build homes was “below par”.182 Of those new built premises built in rural areas in the last three years only one in four had full-fibre connectivity, with one in ten still not able to achieve the USO minimum speed.183 It stated that the current legislative and policy framework barred councils from ensuring that all new build developments came with full-fibre.184 Openreach have also suggested it was a “market failure” if new premises were delivered without full-fibre.185 Although Openreach install full-fibre to all new premises for free if the development is above 30 premises, many smaller sites continue to be delivered with copper connections.186 They recommended that “mandating fibre in all new builds is the only route to prevent a new digital divide”.187 DCMS has consulted on improving infrastructure providers’ ability to access multi-dwelling units and mandating full-fibre in new builds, but according to Openreach “little progress” has been made in moving these proposals forwards since the consultations closed in December 2018.188 Margot James MP told us that DCMS had bid for legislation to address barriers in the next session, including mandating full-fibre to new some builds.189

63.Whilst the Committee supports the Government’s existing barrier busting efforts, more needs to be done to ensure the right policy and legislative framework exists to prevent a deepening of the digital divide. Reform of current wayleave arrangements and delivery of full-fibre connections in new builds is essential to ensure an accelerated full-fibre roll out. It will require legislative change and a balancing of numerous competing interests, so is likely to take time. The Government should release the outcomes of its consultations, including on ensuring tenants’ access to gigabit-capable connections and new build developments, and announce how it intends to bring forward required legislation as soon as possible.

Government targets for full-fibre

64.As of July 2019, according to the then Culture Secretary Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP, 8 per cent of UK premises had access to a full-fibre connection (roughly 2 million premises).190 In the FTIR, the Government set targets for full-fibre roll out, with 15 million UK premises (approximately 50 per cent) connected by 2025, and all premises to have access to a full-fibre service by 2033.191 DCMS has stated that the plan to have nationwide full-fibre services by 2033 is “ambitious” and will require “deployment of new digital infrastructure at scale and at pace”.192 The targets are broadly in line with recommendations made by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), an executive agency of HM Treasury that provides impartial, expert advice on major long term infrastructure challenges.193 In its last National Infrastructure Assessment, the NIC stated that delivering a new national full-fibre infrastructure network “will take at least a decade”, and that if the UK wanted to avoid the risk of not having the infrastructure to meet increasing consumer demand for data it would need “to start investing soon”.194

65.Mark Bridgeman, Vice President of the CLA, told us that 2033 target was so far away that it would be hard to hold Government to account, and suggested interim targets for roll out should be set.195 Graham Biggs, CEO of the Rural Services Network expressed that 2033 was not “ambitious at all in reality” given the available technological solutions, and that Government needed to “find the resource or take further regulatory powers, or a mixture of those things” to ensure it was achieved sooner.196

66.During our inquiry, both final candidates in the Conservative leadership election promised to speed up the delivery of broadband to rural areas, with the eventual winner the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP promising nationwide full-fibre by 2025.197 In response to these commitments, the then Digital Minister Margot James MP told us that “to have the whole country connected to full-fibre by 2025 is not physically possible”.198 In his first statement as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson reiterated his pledge that the Government would “accelerate the programme of full-fibre broadband by eight years, so that every household in this country gets full-fibre broadband within the next five years.”199 The Government has yet to publish details as to how this will be achieved, and the issues identified by the former Minister and the NIC addressed.

67.The target of 2033 for universal full-fibre roll out lacks urgency and ambition for rural areas. The Committee, therefore, welcomes the ambition underpinning the new Prime Minister’s commitment to achieve universal full-fibre broadband by 2025. However, given previous assessments of the time necessary to achieve universal full-fibre, including by the independent National Infrastructure Commission, we are sceptical that this target will be achieved without substantial new, long-term, public investment and potentially controversial regulatory reforms. Given the relative immediacy of the new target date of 2025, the Government must release a statement as soon as possible to explain how it intends to meet it. In accelerating its targets for full-fibre roll out, the Government must honour its commitment to its “outside-in” approach to ensure hard to reach rural are prioritised.


87 Full-fibre networks in the UK, Briefing Paper CBP 8392, House of Commons Library, 15 March 2019, Pp 35–37; Roll-out of broadband to rural communities in Scotland, Debate Pack CDP-0232, 21 November 2017, p 2

88 DCMS, Building Digital UK (May 2019), last accessed 29 August 2019

89 DCMS, Building Digital UK (May 2019), last accessed 29 August 2019

90 DCMS, Building Digital UK (May 2019), last accessed 29 August 2019

91 The Universal Service Obligation (USO) for Broadband, Briefing Paper, CBP 8146, House of Commons Library, June 24, p 5

92 BT Group (RBD0048), para 28

93 The Universal Service Obligation (USO) for Broadband, Briefing Paper, CBP 8146, House of Commons Library, June 24, p 5

94 The Universal Service Obligation (USO) for Broadband, Briefing Paper, CBP 8146, House of Commons Library, June 24, p 5

95 The Universal Service Obligation (USO) for Broadband, Briefing Paper, CBP 8146, House of Commons Library, June 24, p 8

96 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (RBD0046), p 3

98 Ofcom, Statement: Delivering the Broadband Universal Service (June 2019), last accessed 30 August 2019

99 Digital Economy Act 2017, Clause 1(7)(72A)(1)

100 Digital Economy Act 2017, Clause 1(7)(72B)(1)(b)

101 For example CLA (RBD0011), para 20; Countryside Alliance (RBD0043), para 24; National Farmers’ Union (RBD0025), para 21

102 Q18; See also Lothian Broadband Networks Limited (RBD0036), para 3.1.1; Leicestershire County Council (RBD0015), para 3.1.2; Mr Paolo Gerli (RBD0034), paras 6–8

104 Mr Paolo Gerli (RBD0034), para 5

105 CLA (RBD0011), para 21

106 CLA (RBD0011), para 21

107 BT Group (RBD0048), paras 29–30

108 BT Group (RBD0048), para 29

110 Rural Services Network (RBD0012), para 24d

111 National Farmers’ Union (RBD0025), para 25

112 National Farmers’ Union (RBD0025), para 27

113 Law Society of Scotland (RBD0022), para 9

116 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (RBD0055), p 3

117 Countryside Alliance (RBD0043), para 27

118 Countryside Alliance (RBD0043), para 28

120 Which? (RBD0029), para 7

121 Local Government Association (LGA) (RBD0010), para 5.3

122 Rural Services Network (RBD0012), para 24; Qq 70–76

123 The Bit Commons (RBD0005), para 1

124 BT Group (RBD0048), para 31

125 BT Group (RBD0048), para 32

126 BT Group (RBD0048), para 32

127 BT Group (RBD0048), para 33

128 BT Group (RBD0048), para 34

129 The Bit Commons (RBD0053), p 4

130 The Bit Commons (RBD0002), para 3.1

131 National Farmers’ Union (RBD0025), para 27

132 National Farmers’ Union (RBD0025), para 27

133 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (RBD0046), para 16

138 National Farmers’ Union (RBD0025), para 6

141 Amazon, Unlocking the digital potential of rural areas across the UK (March 2018), p 21; see also Superfast broadband in the UK, Briefing Paper CBP06643, House of Commons Library, 13 November 2018, p 14

142 National Farmers’ Union, Latest NFU broadband & digital member survey (December 2018), last accessed 29 July 2019

143 DCMS, Building Digital UK (May 2019), last accessed 30 August 2019

144 Ofcom, Connected Nations 2018: UK Report (December 2018), p 1

145 Ofcom (RBD0044), p 1

146 CLA (RBD0011), para 16

147 Rural Services Network (RBD0012), para 38

148 Openreach (RBD0049), para 10

149 Full-fibre networks in the UK, Briefing Paper CBP 8392, House of Commons Library, 15 March 2019, p 6

150 DCMS, Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (July 2018), last accessed 4 September 2019

151 House of Commons Library, Full-fibre networks in the UK, last accessed 5 September 2019

152 Full-fibre networks in the UK, Briefing Paper CBP 8392, House of Commons Library, 15 March 2019, p 27

153 DCMS, £200 million rollout of full fibre broadband begins (May 2019), last accessed 30 July 2019

154 DCMS, Local Full Fibre Networks Programme (March 2018), last accessed 30 July 2019

155 DCMS, £200 million rollout of full fibre broadband begins (May 2019), last accessed 30 July 2019

156 Full-fibre networks in the UK, Briefing Paper CBP 8392, House of Commons Library, 15 March 2019, p 27

157 Ofcom, Supporting further investment in full-fibre broadband (July 2018), last accessed 30 July 2019

158 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (RBD0046), para 19

161 CLA (RBD0011), para 23

162 Action with Communities in Rural England (RBD0019), para 10

163 Countryside Alliance (RBD0043), para 3

164 Countryside Alliance (RBD0043), para 3

165 Rural Services Network (RBD0012), para 25

167 The Bit Commons (RBD0002), Annex A

168 Mr Paolo Gerli (RBD0034), para 11

169 Mr Paolo Gerli (RBD0034), para 11

170 Openreach (RBD0049), para 7

171 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (RBD0046), para 10

173 Openreach (RBD0049), para 9

174 Internet Services Providers Association (RBD0037), para 2.3

175 DCMS, Guidance on access agreements (December 2018), last accessed 8 September 2019

177 Internet Services Providers Association (RBD0037), para 4.2

178 Internet Services Providers Association (RBD0037), para 4.4

179 Internet Services Providers Association (RBD0037), para 4.5

180 Openreach (RBD0049), para 13; Independent Networks Co-operative Association (RBD0035), Para 2.4

181 CLA (RBD0011), para 5

182 Local Government Association (LGA) (RBD0010), para 3.4

183 Local Government Association (LGA) (RBD0010), para 3.5

184 Local Government Association (LGA) (RBD0010), para 3.7

185 Openreach (RBD0049), para 41

186 Openreach (RBD0049), para 41–42

187 Openreach (RBD0049), para 45

188 Openreach (RBD0049), para 37

190 HC Deb, 22 July 2019, col 1139 [Commons Chamber]

192 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (RBD0046), para 7

193 Full-fibre networks in the UK, Briefing Paper CBP 8392, House of Commons Library, 15 March 2019, p 3

194 National Infrastructure Commission, National Infrastructure Assessment (July 2018), p 20 and p 23

199 HC Deb, 25 July 2019, col 1486 [Commons Chamber]




Published: 18 September 2019