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Queen’s Speech a step in the right direction for enhanced digital connectivity
15 October 2019
The Government’s lack of a parliamentary majority means there is every chance that measures contained within the Queen’s Speech will not be approved by parliament. Nevertheless, the direction of travel set out on digital connectivity is encouraging.
During the leadership campaign, Boris Johnson pledged a target for 100% of the UK to receive “full fibre coverage” by 2025. Only around 8% of the UK is covered by full fibre (fibre to the premises), rising to just over a tenth in the capital.
Many commentators have highlighted a change of emphasis from delivering “full fibre broadband” to “gigabit-capable” speeds. In practice, this means ubiquitous high speed connectivity for Londoners at home and on the move. Fulfilling this requires our telecoms infrastructure to be future proofed with either full fibre, where it makes commercial sense, or with 5G coverage supported by fibre backhaul.
The Government’s proposed legislation begins to tackle some of the barriers to full fibre and 5G rollout. Our recent report Enhancing Digital Connectivity: The Role of Operators and Local Authoritieshighlighted the barriers that some operators face when attempting to negotiate access to properties via wayleave agreements. The Government’s proposal for a streamlined tribunal process when landlords fail to respond to requests from operators is certainly a step in the right direction. Moreover, moves to require new build developments to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections will assist rollout of full fibre equivalent coverage.
But these measures alone are unlikely to be sufficient. The business rates regime needs to incentivise investment in fibre, which could be achieved by extending business rates relief on new fibre for a longer period than is currently the case. Other measures that streamline the planning system will also be required, such as those being consulted on relating to 5G infrastructure.
And, of course, some changeswill need to be made at a regional and local level. In London, for example, boroughs such as the City of London Corporation, Southwark Council, Hackney Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have been proactive in developing successful digital strategies. This is not, however, reflected across all of London. This highlights the need for best practice to be spread across London’s boroughs to ensure that all of the capital benefits from gigabit-capable speeds in a speedy manner. London First has called for a Full Fibre Task Force for London to bring together the Greater London Authority, boroughs, landowners, developers and operators to formalise regular engagement and drive an action plan to achieve ubiquitous, reliable, high-speed coverage in London by 2025.
While the announcements in the Queen’s Speech are certainly a step in the right direction, more will need to be done at both a national and local level to deliver on the Prime Minister’s 2025 target.
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