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Broadband in new-build homes: Government announces new deal

Friday, February 5th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

The government has today announced a new deal with homebuilders and BT Openreach to address the issue of broadband provision in new-build homes.

The agreement introduces a number of measures aimed at getting superfast broadband into new-build properties across the UK, though it does not appear to introduce any legal requirements.

Shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah told Cable.co.uk she was pleased the government had responded to criticisms, but voiced concerns that important issues may have been overlooked in the government's "haste to cobble something together".

Ms Onwurah, who last month said the lack of broadband in new-builds was “symptomatic of the government’s indifference” on the issue, said the agreement fails to recognise the advantages of fibre to the premises broadband.

Speaking to us after the announcement, she said: "I’m pleased that the government has finally responded to my – and others’ – criticisms of the absence of a new build fibre policy.

"This comes eight years after Ofcom’s 'Next Generation New Build’ report – which I authored – and six years into a government supposedly prioritising home building and the digital economy.

"In their haste to cobble something together, I hope they have not overlooked either the importance of competition in digital infrastructure or the advantages of fibre to the premises.

"This agreement appears to be all about fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), it is fibre to the premises which offers the ultra fast broadband speeds homes of the future will need."

She added: "If the government is content to promote Openreach as the sole provider of superfast broadband then that increases the pressure on them to address its monopoly status."

New agreement

Cable.co.uk has reported extensively on the ongoing issue of poor connectivity on new developments that has left homeowners struggling with slow, or sometimes non-existent, broadband for months.

Today's deal, announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), will see fibre-based broadband offered to all new developments either for free or as part of a co-funded initiative.

Announcing the deal following discussions with Openreach and the Home Builders Federation (HBF), DCMS estimated that more than half of all new builds can be connected to fibre free of charge to developers.

As part of the agreement, Openreach will introduce an online planning tool for homebuilders that will tell them whether homes in a particular development can be connected to fibre for free, or if a contribution is needed from the developer.

From today, the housing industry will also have access to a ‘rate card’ from Openreach, which will outline how much homebuilders will have to contribute in the cases where joint funding is required.

Openreach will make a “significant contribution” itself before seeking any funds from developers, the government said, adding that the HBF will promote and support the uptake of the co-funding option among its members.

Digital minister Ed Vaizey said: “The government’s ambition to build 1m new homes over the course of this parliament will house families and future generations to come.

“Broadband connectivity is just one thing that home buyers now expect when buying a new build, so this industry-led push to make superfast, or indeed ultrafast, broadband speeds available by default in new homes represents a very important step in meeting the UK’s digital needs.”

'Important step'

Openreach CEO Clive Selley said: “This is an important step towards bringing fibre broadband to as many new build properties as possible.

“We recognise that high speed broadband connectivity is a major factor for homeowners when deciding to buy a house.

“That’s why we’re offering to deliver fibre to all new build developments either for free or as a co-funded model.

“With the support of the HBF we’ve delivered a series of measures to give developers greater clarity, choice and more funding.

“Today’s announcement underlines Openreach’s commitment to further extend its fibre network – which reaches more than 24m premises – to benefit even more communities across the country.”

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the HBF, added: “Housebuilders are constantly striving to deliver on and surpass the expectations of customers as we continue to see housing supply grow.

“Broadband speeds are an increasingly important factor in the home buying process and this offer to developers will see more new build purchasers benefit from the very best connectivity to go alongside the many other advantages of purchasing a brand new home.”

The government will work with the homebuilders industry to monitor the success of the deal over the next year, it said.

Both Openreach and developers have come under fire from people left with poor connectivity, despite buying a brand new home.

Last month's comments from Ms Onwurah, in which she urged the government to give more guidance to homebuilders and said other countries manage “to get it right” by using shared ducting for utilities, sparked a flurry of tales from disgruntled homeowners who contacted us with their own experiences.

They include Andrew Dickinson, 45, who moved onto a new-build housing estate thinking he could get fibre, only to be told he would have to pay £20,000 – or wait two years.

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