DCMS recently published the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (“FTIR”), which sets out Government’s views on how to promote the investment needed to deliver the fixed and mobile infrastructure required to make the UK a leader in 5G.
We believe that the FTIR sets out a UK strategy with ambition and clarity. However, its recommendations will need to be fleshed out and implemented quickly to deliver it.
Fibre regulation: the Government wants to see fibre to 15 million homes and businesses by 2025, and to all homes and businesses by 2033, and it is looking to the market to deliver this:
- PIA / DPA reform: providers will need to install fibre in Openreach’s physical infrastructure of ducts and poles to achieve these targets. However, the regime that currently allows them to do this puts significant restrictions on what they can then use the fibre for: for example, this fibre cannot primarily be used for mobile backhaul. The Government is right to suggest that Ofcom needs to lift such restrictions. Can this happen quickly? In the past changes such as this have taken too long.
- Dark Fibre: the Government suggests that Openreach should provide dark fibre as a back up if PIA / DPA is not practicable, because eg Openreach’s ducts are full. However we have been here before: will the result be different this time? And why not make Openreach Dark Fibre an option, rather than just a back up to PIA / DPA?
- Fibre tax: the Government is not proposing any change here, simply noting the current relief on new fibre installations for 5 years from 2017. However the rates of fibre tax are much higher for smaller providers, who are at a competitive disadvantage: this needs to change. Also, the current relief applies when new fibre is installed but not when existing dark fibre is newly lit up: this should surely change as well.
Council Concessions: we appreciate the Government’s recognition of neutral host infrastructure providers, and how they “promote competition and investment in network densification and extension”. The Government recognises that Council concessions can be a good way to make street furniture available to them, but it wants Councils to prioritise the connectivity benefits over the revenue opportunity when tendering such concessions. We agree that this is the right approach, but we would also urge Councils to ask the right questions: street furniture concessions are not new, but there have been precious few deployments of small cells on street furniture to date, so Councils need to ask bidders why this is so; and what specifically they are proposing to do to address it.
Spectrum policy: we would agree that there is real merit in looking at alternative licensing models for 5G spectrum, which could support innovative small cell solutions - outdoors and indoors.