The Queen’s Speech cannot provide the final format of any legislation that may be passed by parliament, but it, and accompanying documents released by the government set out the key aims of the “Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill”, and the “Telecommunications (Connectivity) Bill”.
The first key point is that the government has confirmed that it is supporting the national rollout of 1,000 megabit (i.e. gigabit) broadband services. Despite statements from the government, there had been doubts raised in October 2019 over whether the Conservatives would water down this aspect of its commitment to universal internet connectivity. However, the proposed legislation only focuses on download speeds, not upload speeds, and does not specify which technology or technologies will be used to deliver it.
The bill will enshrine in law an already stated desire from the Conservatives (and other parties and industry bodies) that almost all new housing developments will be built with gigabit internet access. The ‘almost’ allows room for development where delivery is economically unrealistic.
The bill also has provisions to make it easier for telecoms companies to deliver broadband services to flats. The government intends to speed up the legal tribunal process that will provide telecoms companies with access rights for up to 18 months when a landlord has failed to respond to or refused previous requests for access.
Who is going to pay for it?
The Labour Party’s promise of free broadband for all during the recent election campaign was greeted with a mixture of warmth and deep skepticism over the suggested costs and the government’s ability to deliver on such a promise.
Labour’s suggested cost for initial construction of the network was £20bn. Boris Johnson’s proposed legislation does not come with any guaranteed financial support, although the government did announce £5bn of funding in October 2019 to help telecoms providers deliver broadband to the hardest to reach 20 per cent of homes across the UK; £650m had also been pledged over the two years to 2021 to ‘stimulate’ the delivery of broadband.
Who will build it?
The limited government funding puts the onus squarely on telecoms operators. National broadband network operator Openreach is likely to be the primary mover in delivering gigabit fibre-to-the-property (FTTP) services. The company announced in September 2019 that it is reducing previously announced investment in ‘G.fast’ enhanced copper-based connectivity in favour of full-fibre investment.
CityFibre has also stated that it will invest £2.5 billion to deliver fibre broadband to 20 per cent of the UK’s population by 2025. However, the government appears to have dropped its own commitment to full delivery by 2025. In fairness, this was always an unlikely target, but the pressure is on to ensure that the UK does not fall further behind when it comes to next generation internet access services.
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