Broadband for all - an alternative vision - Communications Committee Contents

Chapter 6: Summary of recommendations

253.  We recommend that the Government consider our vision for the UK's broadband infrastructure as set out in this report. As a first step, we recommend that the Government undertake to produce detailed costings of our proposal, not least because our proposal removes the final mile—the most expensive per capita component of the network—from the costs requiring public subsidy. (Para 53)

254.  We endorse the European Commission's suggestion that open access to dark fibre at the cabinet-level should be introduced as a condition of BDUK's umbrella state aid permission. (Para 59)

255.  Accordingly, not least, in order to expedite its own programme, we recommend that the Government incorporate open access to dark fibre voluntarily as a feature of its Framework agreement with suppliers. (Para 60)

256.  More broadly, we endorse and invite the Government's view on the European Commission's conclusion on the broadband investment environment that: "securing truly equivalent access by alternative operators to incumbent networks is probably the most important guarantee of sustainable competition, on existing and new networks." (Para 61)

257.  Broadband policy should begin from the question: what should the UK communications infrastructure look like? (Para 75)

258.  In addition, it should be a fundamental principle of broadband policy that whatever measures are undertaken to enhance or extend its availability, they strive to bring about equality of opportunity to access broadband across all communities in the UK. (Para 76)

259.  In this sense, Government policy on broadband should be driven, above all, by the social benefits it can unleash, and the need to arrest and ultimately reduce a damaging digital divide. (Para 77)

260.  We recommend that future broadband policy should not be built around precise speed targets end-users can expect to receive in the short-term, however attractive these may be for sloganeers. (Para 110)

261.  In addition, broadband infrastructure policy should be driven by an avowedly long-term, but also flexible view of the infrastructure's future. (Para 111)

262.  As an overriding principle, we recommend that Government strategy and investment in broadband infrastructure should always be based on a minimum ten year horizon and possibly beyond. (Para 112)

263.  While we acknowledge the presently elusive nature of a 'killer app,' we believe there is a clear need for the Government to state in explicit terms a long-term vision for a pervasive, robust and resilient broadband infrastructure, central to national policy and infrastructure planning. (Para 113)

264.  We anticipate and recommend that policy should be ultimately directed towards universal, point-to-point FTTP as this is a technology not only able to accommodate current demand, but at current rates of growth, will be able to accommodate the UK's bandwidth demands for many decades to come. (Para 114)

265.  In this sense, we recommend that the Government should set out an even bolder vision for broadband policy than is currently the case. (Para 115)

266.  Given the impossibility, with current constraints on resources, of rolling out universal point-to-point FTTP, we recommend that Government policy should, as an intermediate step, aim to bring national fibre-optical connectivity—which would include, as a minimum, fully open access fibre backhaul—within the reach of every community. This will provide the platform from which basic levels of service can be provided to all, and an improved service where there is sufficient demand. (Para 116)

267.  As a point of principle, we believe it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that policy and regulation in the interim guarantee that there is a clear path from any intermediate steps which may be taken to the roll-out of point-to-point FTTP and that, crucially, these steps will not serve to hinder or hold back any future upgrade. (Para 117)

268.  It should be a fundamental principle of broadband policy that measures be undertaken, where possible, to reinforce the robustness and resilience of the network as a whole. (Para 124)

269.  We recommend the Government ensure freedom and economy of passage for communication of data across the UK. (Para 125)

270.  We recommend that Ofcom, in addition to its duties on competition and investment, be given an additional duty to monitor and foster the efficient utilisation of existing capacity (including, for example, use of the communications infrastructure owned by other infrastructure providers) to provide a robust and resilient national network that promotes affordable open access to wholesale and retail connectivity across the UK. (Para 126)

271.  We recommend that the Government's targets should refer to minimum and median levels of service, and that Ofcom adapts its scorecard accordingly. (Para 132)

272.  In order to ensure the digital divide is not widened, we recommend that the Government commit to reducing the digital divide between the minimal service levels guaranteed to all and the median service levels enjoyed by the majority. (Para 134)

273.  It is our view that a Universal Service Obligation (USO) is not an appropriate way to bring about universal access to minimum levels of service, not least because in practice, imposing legal obligations on ISPs could easily and quickly lead to drawn out proceedings in the courts. (Para 136)

274.  We do, therefore, endorse the approach adopted by the Government: pledging a Universal Service Commitment, to which it will be politically accountable, and stating explicitly a clear political aspiration to provide universal access to a minimum level of broadband provision. This, in our view, is at this stage a more appropriate approach than introducing a legally-binding USO. (Para 137)

275.  We recommend that the Government, Ofcom and the industry begin to consider the desirability of the transfer of terrestrial broadcast content from spectrum to the internet and the consequent switching off of broadcast transmission over spectrum, and in particular what the consequences of this might be and how we ought to begin to prepare. (Para 141)

276.  While we do not support the introduction of a USO at present, we do believe that broadcast media will increasingly come to be delivered via the internet. As and when that happens, and particularly in circumstances where this applies to PSB channels, the argument for recommending a USO becomes stronger. The Government should begin now to give this active consideration. (Para 143)

277.  We bring to the Government's attention the fact that we have heard a number of calls during this inquiry, with which we agree, for uptake and effective use of the internet to become a higher priority. (Para 150)

278.  We urge the Government to provide a more coherent mechanism for the provision of enhanced broadband infrastructure in the final 10% than currently is the case with the Rural Community Broadband Fund. In particular, a new mechanism for distributing funds must meet the criticism that its predecessor was flawed in assuming all communities have the capital required, up front, to invest in their own access network. (Para 160)

279.  In their deliberations over the potential reform of the Electronic Communications Code, we encourage the Law Commission to consider the impact of the Code on the roll-out and availability of broadband infrastructure throughout the UK. (Para 167)

280.  We urge the Government to consider reform of street works permissions and the current planning system, given their wider impact on the pace and sheer viability of the roll-out of broadband infrastructure throughout the UK. (Para 168)

281.  We recommend that the Government require that all new building developments be ducted for fibre, with appropriate provision for an internet connection, and that building regulations for this be developed perhaps analogous to those which already require adequate provision, for example, for the delivery of mains electricity and sewage connections. (Para 170)

282.  The refusal to provide financial support for a project, like that in the Northern Fells, on the grounds that its proposal to use a technology (in this case white space spectrum) which would not meet the Government's speed targets, is a further illustration of the way in which such targets are actually counter-productive. We urge the Government to reconsider using speed targets to define the goals of their broadband policy. This would allow them to be more flexible with regard to the technologies used to provide enhanced connectivity, particularly to outlying communities. Loosening the reins a little could very quickly have the effect of bringing enhanced broadband capacity to the final 10%. (Para 177)

283.  The alternative strategy we have put forward would avert the situation which has arisen under the current policy whereby communities are left stranded with a minimal service because a viable enhancement falls below the—relatively arbitrary—mark set for public funding. We invite the Government to respond to our proposal that bringing open access fibre-optic hubs within the reach of every community would liberate communities and enterprises to evaluate the cost—benefit calculation themselves of the various different technological solutions available in the access network. (Para 178)

284.  It should be a fundamental 'design principle' of the Mobile Infrastructure Project that where mobile coverage is being widened for the purpose of eliminating voice not-spots, coverage for data is widened and enhanced at the same time. (Para 182)

285.  The Government should consider the potential for serviced sites constructed as part of the MIP to be used as open access fibre-optic hubs more generally, from which independent third parties could extend out their own alternative, local access networks. (Para 186)

286.  As suggested in Chapter 3, the danger that results from the lack of competitive pressure in the construction of the UK's broadband infrastructure lies in the fact that the Government can easily find itself in thrall to the commercial interests of private enterprise, and therefore unable to direct broadband infrastructure in the wider interests of the UK. (Para 194)

287.  We urge the Government, therefore, to recognise as a general principle that it will be vital to monitor the dominant, national providers vigilantly and to deploy appropriate incentives to ensure they, and the market in which they operate, behave in the public interest as this will not necessarily follow automatically from competitive pressures alone. (Para 195)

288.  In addition, we note the argument of Chapter 3, that despite the presently non-competitive nature of much infrastructure provision in the UK, open access to existing connectivity can enable competition to play a role in extending the reach, connectivity and diversity, and hence also the resilience and performance, of these networks. (Para 196)

289.  We recommend that the Government's approach be explicit in its insistence that the technologies and infrastructures in which companies using public funds decide to invest be ones which offer a clear 'upgrade path' to point-to-point FTTP. (Para 200)

290.  Where infrastructure providers using public money decide to invest in Passive Optical Networks, we recommend that the awarding of public money should be contingent on the installation of the splitter at the level of the local exchange rather than the cabinet, as this would enable passive unbundling, and thereby real competition between ISPs. (Para 202)

291.  We recommend that Ofcom draw on one of the mechanisms at its disposal to encourage, if not require, the universal adoption of standards like Active Line Access, if not ALA itself, which are open, and industry-led, and contain a technical specification for the physical network itself, the wholesale products it should provide, and stipulations regarding the operation, administration and maintenance (OAM) systems interface between infrastructure providers and ISPs. The universal adoption of such standards would do much to level the playing field between alternative infrastructure providers and would help to stimulate competition at the access network level. (Para 219)

292.  We understand Ofcom's cautious stance with regard to the removal of restrictions on Physical Infrastructure Access. However, we urge Ofcom to give the benefits of doing so full consideration. (Para 232)

293.  In our view, the benefits of opening up the restrictions on PIA are likely to be significant, particularly were policy to be re-oriented towards the establishment of open access fibre-optic hubs, as we advocate. Removing the restrictions on PIA may, of course, have knock-on effects for the effectiveness and coherence of other aspects of the overall regulatory edifice. We, therefore, recommend that Ofcom evaluates alternative approaches to the regulation of the broadband market as a whole, in line with EU guidelines. (Para 233)

294.  In light of the potential benefits, we recommend Ofcom actively considers the possible implications of putting its Revised EU Framework Directive Article 12 powers to use, by undertaking an Impact Assessment of doing so, including an open public consultation. Of course, some of Ofcom's existing remedies in the broadband markets may be rendered ineffective or incoherent by implementing these powers. In consulting on their use, therefore, Ofcom should make positive proposals for how these issues would be overcome. (Para 236)

295.  Ofcom should consider employing its Article 12 powers to oblige infrastructure owners to provide open access to dark fibre at the level of the cabinet, and active and passive access, together with rights to install and collocate active equipment on relevant links at the level of the exchanges and other nodes. (Para 243)

296.  We urge the industry to work to ensure there is an organisation with the capacity to act as an intermediary between an array of separate network providers and larger-scale ISPs. We note that the existence and effectiveness of such an organisation would be vital to the success of an open access fibre-optic hub model. (Para 248)

297.  The Government should consider, not least in light of the EU Commission's current consultation and the issues this raises concerning open access to dark fibre as a condition of State Aid, what the implications might be for broadband policy of a new 'house with a tail' model emerging in which the property owner becomes responsible for the construction and maintenance of their own final drop. (Para 250)

298.  We recommend that consideration should be given over time by the Government, Ofcom and the industry as to when and under what conditions fibre switchover would be appropriate and what implications it would have. (Para 252)

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