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Written evidence submitted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Evidence to the DCMS Select Committee Inquiry on Broadband and 5G
- Over 96% of UK premises have access to superfast broadband providing download speeds of more than 24 megabits per second, up from 58% in 2011. In terms of mobile connectivity, over 99% of UK premises have access to 4G from at least one operator. Geographic coverage is improving as well, with 91% of the UK able to get 4G coverage from at least one operator, up from 78% in 2017.
- However, there is more to do to help those communities that have poorer connectivity, and ensure that digital connectivity across the whole of the UK keeps pace with technological developments. Most recently, the Government, working with Ofcom and the industry, has introduced the Universal Service Obligation for broadband. This went live on 20 March and will ensure that everyone across the UK has a legal right to request a decent broadband connection, providing download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second, unless they are already covered by commercially available services or are within one year of a committed publicly funded rollout. The Government has also agreed a deal with the mobile network operators which will take 4G coverage to 95% of the UK landmass by the end of 2025.
- The Government must also prepare for the future, as demand for better connectivity will continue to increase. That is why the Government wants to see next generation, gigabit-capable digital infrastructure deployed across the UK as soon as possible. When looking at the speed, resilience and reliability that consumers want and businesses need in order to grow, it is clear that full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband, and 5G mobile connectivity are the long-term answers. These technologies will provide faster and more reliable services, compared to their predecessors.
- These technologies have the potential to transform productivity, and to open up new business models, especially in rural and more isolated areas. Better connectivity will enable more people to work from home, with less reliance on travelling into cities, and lower carbon emissions. The public sector, especially local authorities and health services, will be able to operate more efficiently by delivering more services online.
- This is why the 2019 Manifesto set out our ambition to bring gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025. We also remain committed to being a world leader in 5G, with the majority of the population covered by 2027.
- We know that our broadband ambition is challenging, which is why we are tackling the barriers that slow up broadband deployment and make it more costly than it needs to be. However, the stretching ambition that we have set has had a galvanising effect on government, Ofcom and industry. In addition, you will be aware that, at the Budget, we announced a record £5 billion investment in gigabit broadband to complement private sector investment and ensure gigabit connectivity to the c.20% of the country which is harder to reach.
- The £5 billion announced at the Budget builds on the significant investment that the Government has already made to upgrade the UK’s digital infrastructure. This started with the Superfast Broadband programme, into which the Government invested an initial £738 million between 2010 and 2016, and then a further £600 million (combined with local body funding) from 2016. The programme met its target of delivering 95% coverage by the end of 2017 and is continuing to increase superfast coverage throughout the UK, increasingly through full fibre deployment, instead of Fibre to the Cabinet technology.
- The Government has also already invested in a number of programmes to stimulate commercial investment in gigabit-capable broadband, and support the deployment of gigabit broadband to harder to reach areas. These are set out below:
● £400 million in the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund to provide capital to the telecommunications sector on commercial terms to support the growth of full fibre broadband. In July 2017, when the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund was set up, less than 2% of the UK had access to full fibre services, according to Ofcom’s Connected Nations figures.
● £200 million in the Local Full Fibre Networks challenge fund. This fund has enabled local bodies to bid for funding to connect key public buildings to gigabit broadband across the whole of the UK and thereby stimulate commercial investment in full fibre networks. Successful projects have upgraded hospitals, health centres, GP surgeries, schools and libraries amongst other public buildings.
● £67 million in the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. These vouchers of up to £2,500 for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) and up to £500 for the homes surrounding them have been used to contribute to the installation cost of gigabit-capable connections.
- More recently, the Government has established the £200 million Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme. This programme aims to support gigabit broadband deployment in harder to reach areas that are unlikely to benefit from commercial deployment. The programme launched in May 2019 and will run until March 2021. It will be followed by the £5 billion UK Gigabit programme announced at Budget.
- The Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme is providing gigabit connectivity to public buildings, enhancing public services in these areas, and making the surrounding area increasingly viable for commercial intervention. As of January 2020, the programme is engaging with over 300 primary schools already and is aiming to upgrade 500 schools to gigabit connectivity. DCMS is continuing to work with Local Authorities and partners across government to identify other public sector buildings for inclusion in the programme.
- The Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme also has a rural voucher component, which provides a voucher to offset the cost of installing gigabit-capable connectivity. Rural premises with broadband speeds of less than 100 megabits per second can use vouchers worth up to £3,500 for small and medium sized enterprises, and up to £1,500 per residential premise to support the cost of installing new gigabit-capable connections.
- As a result of Government and increasing private sector investment, full fibre coverage is increasing rapidly. According to the latest Ofcom figures, full fibre coverage has doubled over the past year to reach 3 million premises or 10% of the UK. Subsequent and more up to date estimates from Thinkbroadband have put full fibre coverage at c.13% and gigabit coverage even higher at c.18%, due to Virgin Media’s upgrades of its existing cable network.
Gigabit Broadband Strategy
- To help the private sector maximise the commercial deployment of gigabit broadband, the Government is committed to making it easier to deploy gigabit broadband quickly and cheaply. One of the first pieces of legislation that we introduced into Parliament after the Election was the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill. This legislation will make it easier for network builders to access blocks of flats where a landlord repeatedly fails to respond to requests for access. We have also recently published our response to the consultation that we ran on mandating gigabit connectivity in new build homes. This response outlined the next steps in our commitment to legislate to mandate gigabit connectivity in new build homes.
- We are also working closely with industry to identify further reforms to help them speed up their deployment of gigabit broadband. For example, DCMS is engaging with the Department for Transport on options to reform the Street Works regime. This is in addition to a number of positive changes that are being introduced, including the launch of the new digital Street Manager service on 1 July that will transform the current process in England.
- The right regulatory environment is essential to provide the private sector with the incentives that it needs to invest billions in upgrading the UK’s digital connectivity. In October 2019, DCMS designated the Government’s first ever Statement of Strategic Priorities for telecommunications, spectrum and post. Ofcom are required to have regard to the Statement of Strategic Priorities when carrying out its regulatory functions.
- The Statement of Strategic Priorities emphasised the importance of stable and long term regulation that incentivises network investment. Since it was designated, Ofcom has published its consultation on the regulation of the broadband market from 2021-26. Ofcom’s approach aims to encourage competition between different networks and to design their regulation in a way that complements the £5 billion that the Government is investing in harder to reach areas of the country. The Government is broadly supportive of Ofcom’s proposed approach.
- Another important way to encourage network competition and market entry by alternative networks operators is to enable them to reuse existing passive infrastructure. This is because civil works and, in particular installing new ducts and poles, comprises around 70% of the cost of deploying full fibre networks. Ofcom has improved the process by which alternative operators access Openreach’s national network of underground ducts and telegraph poles to deploy their own fibre networks. Government regards this as a key enabler of competitive network deployment, and is monitoring this closely.
- Access to Openreach’s passive infrastructure could usefully be complemented by access to passive infrastructure owned by other telecoms companies (e.g. Virgin Media) or other utilities (e.g. water or energy). As a result, the Government is intending to publish a Call for Evidence on how the UK’s Access to Infrastructure regulations are working. These regulations were intended to make it easier for telecoms firms to access passive infrastructure for the deployment of faster broadband networks but our understanding is that, to date, there has been limited use of these regulations.
- Finally, we are working with the Cabinet Office to ensure that public sector buildings are upgraded to gigabit connectivity as soon as possible, building on the Local Full Fibre Networks and Rural Gigabit Connectivity programmes outlined above. We are also working with the Cabinet Office and across Government to open up public sector land and buildings for the deployment of broadband and mobile infrastructure.
- In conclusion, the UK Government recognises that its gigabit broadband ambition is challenging but is pleased that its ambition is matched by industry and Ofcom, as well as the devolved governments and local authorities. The UK Government is committed to working with these stakeholders to make it easier for the private sector to deploy gigabit broadband more quickly and cheaply, and ensure that harder to reach areas get gigabit broadband at the same time as more commercial areas, including through our £5 billion investment into harder to reach areas.
Mobile Coverage, including 5G
- The Government also recognises the importance of having good quality mobile coverage where people live, work and travel. I was delighted, therefore, that on 9 March, we were able to announce that, subsequent to the announcement of our in-principle support on 25 October 2019 for their proposal, the Government had agreed a deal with the mobile network operators to deliver the Shared Rural Network programme.
- This will see Government and industry jointly invest to increase 4G mobile coverage throughout the UK to 95% geographic coverage by the end of 2025. The Shared Rural Network will also provide guaranteed extra coverage to 280,000 premises and 16,000 kilometres of roads, with the biggest improvements in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
- The programme will see the four mobile network operators collectively invest c.£532 million in a shared network of new and existing phone masts. This will help tackle partial not spots - areas where there is currently coverage from at least one, but not all operators. Government will invest over £500 million to go even further to eliminate total not-spots - those hard-to-reach areas where there is currently no coverage from any operator.
- A robust 4G infrastructure network will be a considerable asset as the UK progresses in its ambition to be a world leader in 5G, as 5G deployment will rely heavily on the use of existing 4G infrastructure. So the Shared Rural Network will play a key role in paving the way for our 5G future.
- The Government also remains committed to ensuring that the planning system continues to support the deployment of new digital infrastructure and to keeping planning regulations under review, as the mobile industry starts to deploy 5G. That is why we published a consultation on whether to introduce proposals to simplify the planning system in England to support the deployment of 5G and further improve mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas. The responses to this consultation are now being considered and we will issue a response in due course.
- The Government agreed that industry should put in place additional safeguards in 5G and full fibre networks to manage the risks posed by high risk vendors. The National Cyber Security Centre has provided detailed guidance for industry, and this guidance will be followed when delivering the Shared Rural Network.
- From our discussion with the mobile network operators, we do not expect equipment from high risk vendors to be used in the publicly-funded elements of the Shared Rural Network programme. Further detail on the Government’s actions to ensure the security of future networks is outlined below.
- While the vast majority of commercial rollout of 5G services will be delivered by industry and according to their own timeframes, the Government is still committed to helping the UK become a world leader in the application of 5G technology and ensuring a majority of the population have access to a 5G signal by 2027. The Government is investing in a nationally coordinated programme of 5G testbed facilities and application trials to help achieve this, and has allocated £200 million from the National Productivity Investment Fund to the 5G Programme, which launched in 2017 and will run until March 2022. The 5G Programme’s vision is to foster the development of the UK’s 5G ecosystem, build the business case for 5G and lead the way in 5G research and development to drive the UK’s 5G leadership.
- The Programme will also award around £6 million for Industrial 5G Testbeds and Trials that will focus on developing and understanding the deployment of 5G in industrial settings used in manufacturing. Projects are expected to run from March 2020 to March 2022.
- The Rural Connected Communities project will invest £30 million in funding seven 5G trials in rural areas across the UK. Projects are expected to run from March 2020 to March 2022. The Rural Connected Communities project will support the overall strategy for improving mobile coverage and driving successful 5G implementation in the UK by improving the case for investment in rural networks and supporting the business case for 5G by building and proving demand.
- We expect to invest over £20 million in West Midlands 5G (Urban Connected Communities Project, in addition to substantial West Midlands public sector and private investment (October 2018 to March 2022). The project aims to test models for cost-effective deployment of 5G infrastructure in urban areas, explore potential for 5G to enable economic and social benefits and develop and test new applications and services that use 5G capabilities.
- Finally, as part of a collaboration with the government of South Korea, the Programme is investing £1.13 million to support UK businesses to pilot 5G projects testing infotainment content and services on transport systems.
Securing our future networks
- The security of our broadband and future 5G networks is of paramount importance. As new generations of digital communications are adopted and rolled out, it is vital that we understand and respond to the changing nature of technology in the context of the changing threat and risk landscape. That is why, in October 2018, the Government launched a comprehensive, evidence-based review into the telecoms supply chain for 5G and full fibre networks.
- The Review was focused on telecoms critical national infrastructure supporting public electronic communications networks and services. At its forefront was the technical and security analysis led by the National Cyber Security Centre. This was supported by evidence collected from the UK telecoms industry, including telecommunications providers and equipment suppliers, and combined with economic analysis conducted by KPMG.
- The initial conclusions of the Review were published in a report in July 2019. It outlined the Government’s three priorities for the future of telecommunications:
(i) stronger cyber security practices among operators;
(ii) greater resilience in telecommunications networks; and
(iii) diversity in the market.
- The final conclusions of the Review relating to controls on the use of equipment from “high risk vendors” in UK telecoms networks were announced on 28 January 2020, following a decision by the National Security Council. It was announced that high risk vendors should be:
● Excluded from all safety related and safety critical networks in Critical National Infrastructure;
● Excluded from security critical ‘core’ functions of the network;
● Excluded from sensitive geographic locations; and
● Limited to a minority presence of no more than 35 per cent in the periphery of the network, known as the access network, which connects devices and equipment to mobile phone masts subject to an National Cyber Security Council approved mitigation strategy for the vendor.
- The National Cyber Security Council issued guidance to industry on meeting these new controls and has published a summary of its security analysis which informed the conclusions of the Telecoms Supply Chain Review.
- In line with the Review’s conclusions, the Government will introduce a new, robust telecommunications security framework - with telecoms security requirements at its core. It will be designed to meet the security challenges both now and in the future, whilst ensuring the timely rollout of our critical digital infrastructure. We have committed to bring forward new legislation to provide Ofcom with stronger powers to enable effective enforcement of the new telecoms security requirements, and establish stronger national security powers for the Government before the summer. Importantly, this legislation will also enable controls to be applied to the use of equipment from high risk vendors.
- In line with the Review’s other recommendations, the Government will pursue a targeted diversification strategy for the telecoms supply chain to ensure we have a more robust supply base. Over time, our intention is to reduce our reliance on high risk vendors as market diversification takes place. To do this, we will work with Five Eyes and other partners to develop new supply chain capacity in our critical national infrastructure in this Parliament.
- In combination, these measures will deliver the safety and security upon which the future of our digital economy depends.