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Vaizey reveals 'laborious' negotiations behind new-build fibre deal

Thursday, April 14th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

Ed Vaizey has spoken of his “astonishment” at having to broker a deal between housing developers and Openreach to provide new-build houses with fibre broadband.

The digital minister told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee he had become exasperated by the ‘laborious’ negotiations that had gone into reaching an agreement to make sure fibre is provided to new developments.

An agreement with developers and Openreach, 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.

It aims to fix the ongoing issue of people moving into brand new homes but having to wait months for broadband and, in some cases, landlines because the infrastructure had not been put in place while the properties were built. The issue has been reported extensively by Cable.co.uk.

Giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Mr Vaizey said he was pleased the agreement was now in place, but admitted he had been left exasperated by the fact the government had had to get involved in the first place.

“In terms of service levels and my frustration I said in the recent Westminster Hall debate my complete astonishment that I had, as a minister, to sit down with grown men and women who run the five largest developers in the country and Openreach to say, ‘do you think that when you are building a brand new house in a housing estate of 500 houses or a thousand houses, people moving into those houses might expect a decent level of broadband?’

“And also, when you have got the diggers there and you’re digging up the ground and you’re putting in the sewer, perhaps it might be a lot cheaper to put in a duct and put in a fibre.”

Mr Vaizey said his view had apparently been “greeted with some astonishment” and described how he and housing minister Brandon Lewis had to go on to help broker the deal with Openreach and developers.

Universal Service Obligation

“Me and Brandon Lewis had to sit down and for 18 months laboriously negotiate an agreement between the developers and Openreach to ensure that when planning permission is given for a new estate, Openreach and the developers meet and plan a network for new housing.

“That is now in place [but] I don’t understand why the government had to broker this agreement.

"I’m pleased it’s in place and I have run out of things to say now, but I hope I have conveyed my sometimes exasperation with some of these issues.”

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

At the time shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah, who had previously said the lack of broadband in new-builds was “symptomatic of the government’s indifference” on the issue, told Cable.co.uk she was concerned that important issues may have been overlooked in a "haste to cobble something together".

During his evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Mr Vaizey admitted that the proposed Universal Service Obligation (USO) might not necessarily cover everybody if a particular connection proved to be too expensive.

The government is consulting on how to introduce a USO that will give everyone the right to request a 10Mbps connection.

Mr Vaizey told MPs that it “could be a straightforward subsidy from government, it could be effectively funded by industry and it could be a mixture of the two.”

But he admitted that there could be “a potential cap” on how much funding would be available for a connection if it were to cost “many, many thousands of pounds.”

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