London First has today published its report Enhancing Digital Connectivity in London, outlining the role of operators and local authorities in promoting full fibre coverage across the capital.
The Prime Minister has set out an ambition for the UK to achieve 100% coverage of full fibre to the premises (FTTP) by 2025. But delivering this will be no easy task, with only around 8% of the UK currently covered. London is only marginally higher in full fibre coverage at just over 10%, which compares very unfavourably to many international counterparts: for example, some Asian cities already have 100% coverage. While London performs relatively well in superfast connectivity, most experts agree that full fibre (or 5G with fixed fibre connections for backhaul) is the right way to future-proof the telecoms network. Slow roll-out poses significant risks to London’s global competitiveness.
Our report identifies a number of local barriers to digital infrastructure deployment in London, including some of the unique planning-related challenges posed by London’s fragmented borough system and problems negotiating wayleaves (contractual access agreements between landlords and telecommunications providers).
The good news is that some key measures have been taken by public bodies to help promote full fibre and 5G deployment. Central government has set up a barrier-busting taskforce, and the GLA has established a Connected London team, which has just promoted a standardised wayleave for mobile that will help simplify the process for accessing properties.
During our research, we also spoke to some key London boroughs that have been proactive in developing digital strategies. These were:
The City of London Corporation, which has created a standardised wayleave for fixed-line connections that is being used as a template by many other councils in London.
Southwark Council, which secured a non-exclusive wayleave for roll out of a full fibre network to its social housing, with over 70% of the stock now having full fibre installed.
Hackney Council, which is in the process of doing the same with its housing stock; and
Kensington and Chelsea, which has been promoting coordination between officials, operators and councils by holding regular street works meetings.
But more needs to be done to promote further full fibre and 5G coverage in London. Our report recommends:
Asks of national government
The Government should consider whether to give network builders the right to access property and install new connections if set procedures have been followed, as well as publish its response to the consultation on making it mandatory to connect new-build homes to full fibre.
Moreover, the business rates regime needs to incentivise investment in new fibre. An example of the way this could be further achieved is to extend business rates relief on new fibre for a longer period to support the Prime Minister’s ambition to achieve full fibre coverage across the UK by 2025.
Asks of local authorities
Some of London’s boroughs have already shown strong leadership in improving the roll-out of digital infrastructure. Best practice should be adopted across London boroughs.
Asks of operators
Operators can play their part by working closely with boroughs to better understand the specific local challenges and help local authority officers make the case to leaders and residents by conveying the wider community benefits of digital connectivity.
Call for creation of a London Full Fibre Taskforce
Operators need to understand the perspective of local authorities – and, vice versa, local councils need to understand the logistical and commercial challenges facing operators. Accordingly, we are calling for the creation of a Full Fibre Task Force for London to bring together the GLA, boroughs, landowners, developers and operators to formalise regular engagement and drive an action plan to achieve ubiquitous, reliable, high-speed data in London by 2025. London Councils would be well placed to facilitate and promote this task force.
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