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Watchdog launches ‘national mission’ for broadband in UK

Simon English
PA
PA

THE telecoms watchdog set out plans to “supercharge” investment in ultra-fast internet, backing Boris Johnson’s goal of giving all of Britain the best broadband by 2025.

Ofcom interim chief executive Jonathan Oxley said the proposals for the 2021-2026 period would strip back regulation and give incentives to invest in a project he described as “akin to building the Channel Tunnel”. “What we are trying to do is have full fibre for the whole country,” he said. “We want to get it to every consumer, every business, we want everyone to have the best.”

The Government has already set aside £5 billion to fund fast internet in rural areas, money that will most likely find its way to BT’s Openreach arm. The proposals, out for consultation, will give BT rivals such as Sky and TalkTalk easier access to its network to reduce disruption to roads.

Openreach in turn won’t be able to offer discounts that harm competition, and will be encouraged to eventually close its present copper network. Fibre is faster and more reliable, says the telecoms sector, but only 10% of Britain has it presently.

The plans were widely welcomed. BT chief executive Philip Jansen said: “We are already well on track to hit our target of building full fibre to four million premises by March 2021. We will continue our discussions with Government, Ofcom and the industry so that we can have the confidence to significantly extend our role in this important national mission.”

Ofcom thinks 70% of the country can get full-fibre broadband with relative ease. It will be more expensive in the other 30%, but consumers in those areas will be protected from higher costs by government and Openreach subsidy.

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at uSwitch.com, said: “This is good news for consumers, with many of us still suffering with sub-par broadband.” BT shares moved up 5p to 197p on the news, even though there is an expectation that it will have to cut the dividend to pay for the broadband ambitions. Analysts at Jefferies said Ofcom’s plans are good for BT since it should be able to recover its investment costs.

TalkTalk chief executive Tristia Harrison said: “It’s essential the regulatory environment allows competition and investment to thrive. Ofcom must avoid raising wholesale prices too early and only do so when competition has been established.”