Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

BT fibre network to be complete ‘by Olympics’

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Following the lessons of its early trials of the technology, BT has said that it will complete the first stages of its fibre network by the time of the summer 2012 Olympic Games – bringing forward the target date by around nine months.

BT had previously said that the network would be complete by March 2013.

By this time, some 10m households will have access to fibre, either directly from the premises or, further up the chain, at the level of the street cabinet. At the current rate of progress, some 4m households will be fibre-connected by the end of next year.

Any bringing forward of fibre completion dates is welcome since it will substantially improve the web experience, at least for those benefitting from fibre at a low level in the network chain. Somewhat strangely, however – and I have only the BBC report to go on here since BT itself has not issued a press release – Ian Livingstone, BT’s chief executive, referred to the need for ‘further clarity’ from government, with politicians needing to decide ‘how much of a priority fibre broadband is.’ This could simply be a reference to the 60% of homes not targeted in this initial stage of the company’s programme and for the government to decide how to allocate public funds to assist with further roll-out ‘beyond the market’. With a forthcoming election, and the Tories commited only to scrapping the landline duty, which is the government’s preferred route to providing greater levels of finance for wider fibre provision, such levels of caution are perhaps understandable.

If this is not the context, then the reference to BT awaiting further government action (or words) on fibre looks rather odd – representing almost an acknowledgement that the company is building a fibre network not so much because it can make money out of it but rather more because it is a matter of public policy. That is a somewhat strange position for a commercial company to be in, even a privatised one. In turn, if BT cannot make money out of fibre then this does call into question not only its own future, and that of the livelihoods of the people working for it, but also of the regulatory settlement for leading us into a situation in which the logical progression of network provision in the UK cannot be done on the basis of a commercial return. That, too, can only jeopardise the future competitiveness of the UK given the different experiences of other countries already rolling out fibre ahead of the UK and where subsidies are more common. Given the recent conclusions of the OECD, i.e. that there is a public benefit to having fibre networks and that the benefit is one that, in the greater scheme of things is not too expensive to fund, perhaps this is an appropriate time for a re-think of how fibre networks are provided in this country.

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Written by Calvin

21/12/2009 at 5:27 pm

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