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Broadband firms will keep investing in networks but need 'better regulation'

Monday, October 16th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Infrastructure providers say they will keep investing in the UK’s broadband networks following a government watchdog’s call for “urgent action”.

But they say better regulation is needed to help overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of better broadband infrastructure.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) last week warned that the UK risks “falling behind internationally” if it fails to invest sufficiently.

Its latest report highlighted the lack of decent connections in rural areas and talked of the need to integrate fixed and mobile broadband networks.

A spokesperson for Openreach, which owns and maintains Britain’s biggest fixed broadband network, said good progress has been made in recent years and the government is on track to deliver 95% superfast broadband coverage by the end of the year.

But they warned: “There are still too many barriers to investment in and delivery of the future-proofed digital infrastructure the country needs.

“Openreach has invested more than £11bn into digital infrastructure over the past decade and, like all network builders, we support efforts to reduce the costs and maximise the benefits of deploying more ‘full fibre’.

“That includes looking carefully at the UK’s regulatory framework to make sure it’s encouraging investment and also addressing more practical issues like planning, wayleaves and local authority engagement.

“We’re determined to keep investing in the digital infrastructure that Britain needs to maintain our thriving digital economy, and we’ll play an active role in this consultation.”

Mark Collins, director of strategy and public affairs at fibre network builder CityFibre, said the NIC report is “rightly critical of the current status quo, which sees outdated and misjudged policies and regulations stifling fair competition and investment”.

'Considerable progress'

He added: “As CityFibre’s recent £200m equity raise shows, we are ready and willing to invest to rectify this.

“And we agree with the NIC that there is an opportunity now to put in place the right policies and regulations to rapidly and dramatically transform the situation.”

Mobile UK, which represents the UK’s mobile network operators, said the report “correctly identifies the timely need for further legislative reform to support mobile infrastructure, especially in removing barriers in the planning process”.

It also praised the NIC for involving regional metro mayors in its work.

“Better and more focused strategic planning at a local and regional level is essential to mobile roll-out,” Mobile UK said in a statement.

“However, it is concerning that the report fails to acknowledge the considerable progress made by the industry, which is part-way through a £5bn investment programme to extend and enhance coverage across the UK.

“The mobile operators will continue to invest in their networks and we look forward to responding to the NIC’s consultation.”

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