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Broadband, Mobile & Energy News: Weekly Roundup 27/07/18

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Here’s a roundup of the biggest stories this week from the broadband and energy sectors:

 

Openreach Encourages Greater Use of Network

Openreach, the infrastructure arm of BT, which is responsible for operating the UK’s network of telephone wires and broadband cables, has announced cuts to the costs of using its network. This amounts to a reduction in the wholesale cost of broadband.

Openreach’s CEO, Clive Selly, called the move “a win/win for communications providers, their customers and Openreach.” He went on to say that “it will help Britain's homes and businesses experience the benefits of faster and more reliable broadband."

The firm says it wants to increase the number of customers using its high-speed broadband network. Openreach aims to accomplish this by making it cheaper for ISPs such as Virgin Media and Plusnet to make use of the company’s infrastructure, hoping that they will pass those savings on to customers in order to attract new ones. Companies who rent the network from Openreach will be incentivised through larger price cuts if they provide greater numbers of new customers.

Openreach is aiming to provide access to superfast broadband to the majority of homes across the UK within the next five years. This move is in tandem with plans made by both the government and regulatory body Ofcom to increase high-speed network coverage across the UK.

Full Fibre Coverage Across the UK by 2033

The Government’s plan to roll out full fibre optic network coverage across the UK, the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), was launched this week. The FTIR is geared towards giving the entirety of the UK’s population access to full fibreoptic broadband by 2033.

The plan includes intermediary targets, such as to have 15 million homes and businesses connected to the fibreoptic network by 2025.

In order to achieve these targets, a host of new legislation will be introduced. The new rules will require all newly built houses to be added to the fibre optic network as standard. The legislation will also support companies in driving the wholescale upgrade to the UK’s broadband infrastructure. For instance, the Government will be providing companies with more access to Openreach’s network of cabling.

Whilst the Government aims to have the upgrade as commercially driven as possible, it recognises that the scope of the project will likely go beyond of what the market has a desire to achieve. Therefore, the FTIR has the Government promising £3-5 billion in order to deliver full fibreoptic broadband to the most remote areas of the UK.

Jeremy Wright, DCMS Secretary of State set out the aims of the FTIR as being for " everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel. This radical new blueprint for the future of telecommunications in this country will increase competition and investment in full fibre broadband, create more commercial opportunities and make it easier and cheaper to roll out infrastructure for 5G."

SAC Publishes Guidance on the State of Broadband Services in Scotland

The Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) has published a wide-ranging report addressing many aspects of broadband services in the country. The headline of the report is a call for closer collaboration between the Scottish and UK governments in their shared goal of improving high speed broadband coverage.

Pete Wishart, the SAC’s chair, commented "Scotland's challenging geography and remote communities make it one of the most difficult places to deliver broadband and mobile coverage in Europe, and while good progress has been made there is still more to do. Our report makes recommendations about the way forward and emphasises the importance of both governments working together to make this happen."

The SAC also calls for offering more protection and rights to broadband customers, particularly in rural areas. For instance, the report raises the issue that while rural broadband customers have a right to exit broadband contracts if their speed falls below that which is advertised, practically speaking they cannot leave such contracts because most rural areas are served by just one broadband provider.

In order to combat this, the committee suggest that Ofcom implement a policy requiring broadband providers to offer compensation in such cases.

The report also raised issues over advertising language for broadband services. It took particular issue with the use of “fibre broadband” to advertise services which were partially copper, and much slower than fully fibreoptic cables. It proposed banning adverts which have the potential to mislead consumers in this way.

Openreach’s Annual Review Shows Company Progress

BT’s Openreach has published an inaugural Annual Review for 2017/18, which collates and presents information on the company’s performance over the year. The focus of the report is on the changes made to the company at the behest of Ofcom, whilst also providing an overview of the company’s finances.

The statistics presented by the report the company’s network show that it is growing, now serving 32 million homes and businesses across the UK. To support this, the company now have 97,000 street cabinets across the country, along with 5,600 broadband exchange buildings. Openreach’s network of cabling is measured at 165 million km and is maintained by the 30,400 engineers employed by the company.

As for the company’s finances, despite having £230 million worth of regulatory changes imposed upon them, the company remains profitable, albeit with a 7% dip since last year. The company’s total expenditure was £1.5 billion in the previous year, which they say is “reflecting our ongoing investment in fibre coverage and speed, and the delivery of more complex Ethernet circuits.”

Mike McTighe, the chairman of Openreach highlighted the growth of the company in the review, saying “This year we continued to grow our superfast broadband network. Today it delivers speeds of at least 24 Mbps to more than 27.5 million premises. We were proud to do the heavy lifting on the Government’s commitment to make superfast available to 95% of UK homes and businesses by the end of 2017.”

He went on to say that with regards to the future, “Having achieved such widespread access to superfast broadband, it’s right that we shift our focus to the next generation of ultrafast (100+ Mbps) infrastructure.”

MPs Criticise Government’s Smart Meter Plans

A government report, conducted by a parliamentary group composed of 92 MPs and peers, has announced that having a smart meter saves customers an average of £11 on their annual energy bill, rising to £26 for those on dual fuel tariffs.

The report is widely critical of the government’s smart meter initiative. It goes on to state that the government is unlikely to meet its target of installing 53 million smart meters in 30 million premises at a cost of £11 billion, by 2021.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy defended the government, by pointing out that the average annual saving of £11 equated to a total saving of £300m. He went on to say that the saving was predicted to rise to £47 per bill by 2030, equating a total annual saving of £1.2 billion.

However, the report questioned who the saving is really beneficial for. The £11 billion cost of upgrading to smart meters has been borne by customers facing levies on their energy bills. Energy companies have also frequently cited the cost of upgrading to smart meters as a reason behind recent increases in energy bills. Furthermore, the report claims that energy companies would be the ones making the most savings as a result of increased smart meter uptake, rather than their customers.