Can Miller’s axe free broadband roll-outs?
Newly-minted culture secretary Maria Miller wasted no time signposting her intention to speed up the roll-out of next generation broadband.
Hours after being appointed, she said she was taking an axe to the red tape that has helped to hobble network upgrades and new builds.
Among other things she promised to scrap council objections to the siting of broadband street cabinets, to short-circuit wayleave negotiations, and to let anyone put up overhead lines wherever they like. However, the detailed results will depend on consultation and legislation.
The Communications Management Association, which represents business communications users, welcomed the statement. “Any action to remove the bureaucratic drag from the planning system, however limited, must be good for broadband Britain,” the CMA’s leader of regulatory affairs David Harrington told Br0kenTeleph0n3.
“We hope that the government’s decisions won’t be subjected to judicial review or other delaying tactics by local authorities or by other affected parties.”
Harrington said planning restrictions on mobile infrastructure are still “hostage to fortune”. However, the government’s willingness to bang heads together at councils, mobile operators and others to streamline the permissions process was good news. “It is unfortunate that the initiative was not seized 10 years ago,” he said.
Harrington believes that the decision on overhead lines is key. “This is likely to have a significant impact on business plans and timescales.”
He called on Miller to bring legislation to remove the fibre tax and to ease the regulator’s restrictions on third party use of BT’s ducts and poles. These include non-cost related prices, customers and a 90-day revocation of access rights.
An informed source said the comment on wayleaves is likely to help BT, which is mired in talks with landowners over rental levels for broadband. Many BT lines are buried directly in the ground, but fibres need to be sheltered in ducts. This will require digging new trenches to bury the ducts.
BT would also like to optimise the fibre (data) network rather than overlay it on the existing copper (telephone) network. This means digging new trenches or erecting new poles.
“When landowners see a rich FTSE top 100 company with no connection to the local community coming into the district they rub their hands,” he said.
Miller also released a May report on BDUK’s progress in getting the £530m earmarked to upgrade rural broadband. An analysis by the Conservative Technology Forum’s Philip Virgo shows:
2 projects under way (Rutland and Lancashire)
5 procurements completed but not yet under way
4 procurements due to be completed in May
25 stuck in the unnecessary Horlicks that BDUK has made of state aid
6 where the council has told BDUK where it can put its framework but they would still like the money
5 where the council has told BDUK where it can put its framework.”