UK's Ofcom announces survey to examine future broadband infrastructure

APRIL 16, 2008 -- Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, today published proposals to promote next-generation broadband networks for new housing and office developments. A number of new build developments are already being fitted with fiber-based networks, including Ebbsfleet in Kent, where the new owners will move in this summer.

APRIL 16, 2008 -- Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications, and wireless communications services, today published proposals to promote next-generation broadband networks for new housing and office developments. It also announced a survey of UK infrastructure to examine the scope for extending these networks elsewhere.

The proposals seek to encourage investment in super-fast broadband with speeds of up to 100 Mbits/sec, while promoting competition in the provision of these services.
The proposed regulations are designed to provide investors with certainty over how these new networks will be regulated, say Ofcom representatives. They will ensure that all communications providers interested in delivering high-speed broadband have equal opportunities to invest in telecoms infrastructure for new build properties.

In 2007, the Government announced a target of three million new build homes by 2020; it is estimated that around 246,000 new residential and business premises are being built each year. A number of new build developments are already being fitted with fiber-based networks, including Ebbsfleet in Kent, where the new owners will move in this summer.
The UK's move to next-generation fiber-based telecom networks is one of the most fundamental changes in telecom infrastructure since the development of broadband, notes Ofcom. Many businesses are interested in providing fiber networks to new build developments, including property developers, utility companies, and telecoms companies.

Ofcom's proposals are designed to safeguard levels of competition and consumer protection for next generation fiber-based products that currently apply to copper-based networks today. The proposals are designed to:
• Provide regulatory clarity and equal treatment of communications providers while ensuring flexibility during roll-out of new fiber-based products;
• Encourage investment by standardizing wholesale telecom products to make the deployment of fiber-based products attractive to property developers; and
• Ensure that appropriate consumer protection measures are in place for properties with these new networks--such as uninterrupted battery back-up to guarantee access to emergency calls in the event of a power failure.

Ofcom is also encouraging communications providers, property developers, and the utilities industries to work together to develop standards to guide the commercial success of next-generation broadband to new build homes and businesses.

Ofcom says today's announcement is part of a wider program of work to promote next-generation broadband. In September 2007, Ofcom published a consultation with proposals for the future regulation of this new communications infrastructure, which principally covers telecom networks to existing property developments; today's consultation focuses exclusively on new build.

"Super-fast broadband is ripe for deployment in new build areas," contends Ed Richards, Ofcom's chief executive. "We need to take advantage of this and encourage investment in networks, while promoting competition. This will allow consumers to benefit from all the advantages of super-fast access speeds, competitive provision, and choice," he says.

UK infrastructure survey

Richards also announced a sample survey of the UK's existing underground telecom infrastructure and the potential of its use for fiber roll-out. The survey is critical to enable greater understanding of the economic and physical characteristics that need to be considered for the future development of broadband in the UK.

Says Richards, "I believe that super-fast next generation broadband will come to change our perception of communications radically; alongside mobile broadband, it will in time have a similar impact upon our society and economy as we have seen with first generation broadband. So we must prepare now."

"Given the remarkable results from recent French surveys," he continues, "we need to establish what the position is here and whether or not duct access has a role to play in the development of competitive next-generation access. So in cooperation with operators, we intend to undertake a sample survey of the existing duct network. We are well aware that there are significant issues related to this in the broader telecoms market and that careful consideration will need to be given to these, alongside the results of the survey," he adds.

Ofcom is also supporting and contributing to the Government's review of broadband being led by Francesco Caio, launched in February. "Working with the Caio Review, we will also be asking whether there is scope to secure commercially viable access for fiber deployment through the primary infrastructure networks of other utilities such as water and energy," Richards explains. "We must be sure we are not missing a big trick here. We know that a lot of the costs are in the civil engineering, and this is civil engineering of a very similar kind."


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