Broadband operators could use gas and energy networks to deploy UK fibre

The government wants to make it easier for broadband operators to use existing utilities infrastructure to deploy fibre cables and speed up the rollout of gigabit connectivity across the UK.

It is estimated that civil works such as digging up roads account for four fifths of the cost of building fibre networks.

If infrastructure builders were able to use assets such as pipes, ducts and masts that power the country’s gas, electricity, water and sewer networks, then this cost could be reduced significantly.

Uk fibre rollout

Legislation that allows broadband operators to access this infrastructure at fair rates already exists but the government is concerned that it is not widely used. It is therefore seeking views from the industry to overhaul the regulations.

Figures from the National Infrastructure Commission suggests the reuse of these assets could reduce the cost of gigabit broadband by £8 billion. Given the estimated expense of nationwide coverage is above £30 billion, this is a significant sum.

“It makes both economic and common sense for firms rolling out gigabit broadband to make use of the infrastructure that already exists across the country,” said Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure. “This will help them avoid the high costs and disruption of having to dig or build their own and ultimately benefit consumers.

“We’ve seen progress with improved access to Openreach’s ducts and poles, but other telecoms companies have large networks that are not easily accessible. We want them, and utility companies, to do more to open these up and help speed up getting next-generation broadband to people across the UK.”

The vast majority of the UK’s broadband infrastructure is delivered by fibre the cabinet (FTTC) technology that uses copper for the final few metres of a connection. However Openreach, Virgin Media and ‘altnets’ like Cityfibre, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear are all now investing in ‘full fibre’ networks.

The government itself as adopted a ‘fibre-by-default’ approach to connectivity and wants total coverage by 2025. Both Openreach and the altnets have said they could reach 15 million premises by 2025 if there was a favourable investment climate and could go even further with the right support.

The economic impact of total gigabit broadband coverage could be worth up to £51.4 million over five years to the UK according to Assembly Research.

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