A Commons Library Briefing on the Government’s policy for building a UK-wide full-fibre broadband network by 2033. It covers what is full-fibre broadband compared to superfast broadband and the Government's strategy for promoting full-fibre set out in its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), published in July 2018.Jump to full report >>
Since 2010, the Government has focused on the roll-out of superfast broadband, which it defines as download speeds of at least 24 megabits per second (Mbps). Superfast broadband has been mainly delivered using Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology, which is a part-fibre, part-copper technology: fibre optic cables run from the exchange to a street cabinet, and existing copper telephone lines connect the cabinet to the premises.
Superfast broadband availability reached 95% of UK premises as of February 2018 (according to Ofcom, based on 24 Mbps). The Library briefing paper on Superfast broadband in the UK provides more information.
Although the UK has high levels of superfast broadband coverage, access to full-fibre networks sits at 7% (as of January 2019). Constituency statistics for broadband coverage are available on the Library website: Constituency data: broadband coverage and speeds.
Full-fibre networks use fibre optic cables to connect the exchange directly to each premises. Full-fibre connections are capable of delivering speeds greater than 1 gigabit per second (Gbps; 1 Gpbs is equal to 1000 Mbps). Full-fibre networks are more reliable than copper-based networks and cheaper to maintain and operate. Full-fibre networks are also important for supporting high capacity mobile broadband networks, particularly future 5G networks.
The Government has set a target to build a UK-wide full-fibre network by 2033, with 15 million premises connected by 2025. The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) published in July 2018, sets out the Government’s strategy for delivering this target. The overarching approach is to promote commercial investment by encouraging a competitive market to build fibre infrastructure. The Government’s assessment is that with policy reforms and targeted regulatory intervention in some areas, private investment should be able to deliver full-fibre to 90% of UK premises, with the remaining 10% requiring further public funding.
The FTIR is broadly in line with recommendations made by the National Infrastructure Commission in July 2018. Stakeholders have broadly welcomed the proposals as a clear statement of Government policy and direction. However, some industry operators have cautioned that the “devil is in the detail”.
Building a nationwide full-fibre network is a large infrastructure project and reforms to make building fibre networks easier form part of the Government’s policy in the FTIR. The Government launched two consultations in October 2018 on proposals regarding full-fibre connections to new build properties and reform to procedures for obtaining wayleaves to build digital infrastructure to tenanted properties. Other policy measures include Ofcom’s work to facilitate access to Openreach’s network of underground ducts and poles.
There are currently three UK-wide Government funded programmes delivering full fibre networks, collectively now referred to as “The UK Fibre Programme”; the programmes are delivered by Building Digital UK (BDUK), part of DCMS:
For information about the voucher schemes, see DCMS’s Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme website.
The Government stated in March 2019 that longer term funding options would be determined as part of the “forthcoming spending review”.
The UK Government has primary responsibility for broadband policy and coverage targets because telecommunications is a reserved power. However, the delivery of broadband infrastructure projects often involves local authorities or devolved responsibilities, for example, engagement with planning and highways authorities regarding street works.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-8392
Author: Georgina Hutton