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BDUK boss: Plan to get superfast broadband to final 5% is almost ready

Monday, September 21st 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A plan to bring superfast broadband to the “final 5%” of premises not covered by the current government programme will be in place by the end of the year, according to the man in charge of the rollout.

But Chris Townsend, head of the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, said getting to those in the hardest-to-reach areas is “tougher than ever.”

Mr Townsend was talking to the Transform Digital conference hosted by the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA) in Bristol.

He said BDUK is on track to meet its target of taking superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by the end of 2017.

“Superfast broadband is now available to 84% of homes and businesses in the UK, which is terrific,” said Mr Townsend.

“Nationally, over 22% of homes and businesses have signed up to superfast broadband. A lot of that has happened recently and superfast broadband coverage take-up per household in the UK is the highest in the top five European economies, which is very encouraging.

“So we know there is a demand for it and we are absolutely committed to not only getting to 95% coverage but getting beyond 95%.”

A “perfect storm” of dynamics had come together to put pressure on BDUK and local authorities to address the issue, he said.

“In a period of austerity, getting funding is tougher than ever, getting to this final 5% is tougher than ever, it’s in the deepest rural areas and by definition it’s really tough to reach these premises.

“Last but not least, the residents of these premises and these businesses are getting more and more vocal because they are getting more and more frustrated.”

He said BDUK has submitted a funding plan to deal with the final 5% to the treasury as part of the government’s Spending Review and expects it to have made a decision by the end of the year.

'Individual challenges'

“We are developing those plans at the moment and between now and December 2015 we hope to have the outline plan agreed with government as to how we are going to address this last 5% or the majority of the last 5%.

“This is something that is taking up most of my time at the moment with my team working with the treasury teams, working with advisors, working with Ofcom, we’re putting this plan together.”

The plan takes into account Conservative manifesto commitments, the government’s Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy and seven pilot schemes being run by satellite providers Avanti and Satellite Internet, wireless providers AB Internet, Airwave and Quickline, and hybrid projects Cybermoor and Call Flow.

“These pilots are incredibly important to us, they’re incredibly important to finding a solution to the last 5%.”

The properties that make up the final 5% come with different challenges, Mr Townsend said.

“We are almost dividing the last 5% up into five 1% pieces and addressing each of those because they have their own individual challenges.

“For example, 1% is in cities, in the suburbs, and BDUK is not allowed to address that through the intervention programme that we currently have. "

Each 1% involves a different challenge and different solution, he said, adding: "So that’s what we’re working on at the moment and we hope that by the end of this year, particularly with the information coming through from our market test pilots and our discussions with industry, we should have an idea how to address it.”

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