110.The telecommunications network is a vital piece of national infrastructure, but it is built and delivered on a local level. Internet and mobile providers told us that regulatory barriers were one of the key challenges to deploying telecommunications infrastructure. We heard that the practical processes required for building, such as gaining planning permission, could cause significant delays to progress. The main areas they identified as causing delays were wayleaves and permitted development right:
Providers need a wayleave agreement to deploy telecoms apparatus such as cables, which are protected by the Electronics Communications Code (ECC). The ECC was reformed in 2017 to make it easier for operators to upgrade infrastructure on public or private land. Providers told us that they largely welcomed the reforms but some, such as TalkTalk, said that the “process remains time-consuming and onerous”.
111.DCMS recently established a Barrier Busting Task Force (BBTF) which works with industry, local authorities and the devolved administrations to identify and remove barriers to deployment. As mentioned above, the Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which regulates the relationship between landowners and operators, was revised as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017 to make it easier for operators to upgrade infrastructure on public or private land.
112.Witnesses said that improving practical barriers to deployment is key for the future of the industry: full-fibre and 5G. Mobile providers agreed that it is crucial “to get the regulatory and planning regime for 5G right now” so that “the pace of reform reflects the importance people now place on digital connectivity”. Like the majority of providers we spoke to, Simon Miller, Three UK, welcomed the UK Government’s recent reforms but expressed disappointment that “these things are only starting to change now.” Richard Wainer, EE, highlighted that “the mobile industry was operating until the end of last year with an electronic communications code that had not been changed for more than 30 years.” Paul Morris, Vodafone, argued that it had been difficult to make progress on 4G and 5G whilst operating in “a 2G to 3G regulatory structure.”
113.A recent debate of the UK’s Digital Infrastructure Panel, which included representatives from BT, Hyperoptic and Virgin Media, identified DCMS’ Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review as a way of introducing “more policy consistency and to solve some of the genuine supply-side barriers to build, such as wayleaves.” Due to be published in summer 2018, the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review will explore what makes investment in full-fibre and 5G networks attractive across the whole of the UK.
114.In their written evidence, DCMS acknowledged that “scale of infrastructure works required to deploy superfast broadband and mobile networks to geographically dispersed communities, and the consequent funding” are the key barriers to broadband and mobile coverage in Scotland. They highlighted that reforms to the ECC “will make it easier and cheaper for operators to roll out, upgrade and share their apparatus, supporting improved coverage and connectivity across the UK”.
115.Witnesses told us that a cross-government approach to addressing regulatory barriers across the UK was a priority. The powers for these regulations are split between the UK Government, which legislates for wayleaves and the ECC, and the Scottish Government, which has powers relating to taxation, business rates and some elements of planning.
116.Daniel Butler, Virgin Media, told us that “about 80% of the cost of putting broadband in the ground… is in the civil engineering effort that entails.” He said that providers “look to local authorities and Governments to do everything within their power to remove some of the costly constraints of highways policy and planning policy and to provide incentives through those frameworks for private rollout.” CityFibre said that a cross-government approach was important so that regulation is “consistent across the UK Government and devolved nations.”
117.The Scottish Government told us that they saw the UK Government’s Barrier Busting Task Force as a vehicle for cross-government coordination:
We have had some really good engagement with the barrier busting team in DCMS, which has been positive. We all benefit from sharing best practice examples of where public bodies have worked effectively to remove these barriers.
DCMS have stated that the BBTF is “committed to working collaboratively with the Scottish Government.” The Secretary of State commented:
In fact, one of the areas that we need to work with the Scottish Government more on is making sure that the costs of the roll-out are reduced so that street works and wayleaves are sorted out, so that the actual roll-out can go quicker.
118.Providers were clear that regulatory and administrative processes are a significant barrier to progress on broadband and mobile coverage. Reducing the complexity and length of these processes is vital to progress on full-fibre and 5G infrastructure. We welcome the UK Government’s reform of the Electronic Communications Code to make the process of deploying technology simpler, and the introduction of the Barrier Busting Task Force as mechanism to bring all parts of government together to address this challenge. However, there is still more to be done and we were struck by the views of providers who told us that until recently they were trying to deliver 4G and 5G technologies within a 2G regulatory structure. We recommend that both the UK and Scottish Government work together with local authorities to develop a joint approach to addressing regulatory barriers to infrastructure deployment, and set out what progress it is making in response to this Report.
208 Ofcom, , December 2017
209 TalkTalk ()
210 House of Commons library briefing, , June 2017
212 Mobile UK ()
213 [Paul James]
214 [Richard Wainer]
215 Vodafone ()
216 [Simon Miller]
217 [Richard Wainer]
218 [Paul Morris]
219 IS Preview, , 16 April 2018
220 Department for Culture, Media and Sport, UK Government ()
223 CityFibre ()
224 [Robbie McGhee]
225 Department for Culture, Media and Sport, UK Government ()
Published: 23 July 2018