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Digi minister Matt Hancock: Britain needs go full fibre. And we're not paying for it

UK.gov 'working with fibre providers to find a solution'

Parliament in the clouds

The UK's digital minister Matt Hancock has said pure fibre and 5G are the priority for Blighty's digital infrastructure over the next decade - but has indicated the government won't be paying for it.

Speaking at the Broadband World Forum event today, he said by 2020 the volume of global internet traffic would be 95 times what it is now.

"Technology is constantly changing," he said. "We have to keep moving. To paraphrase Al Gore: the last thing any of us wants is to end up as road kill on the information superhighway."

Hancock said our current part-fibre, part-copper infrastructure has brought superfast connectivity to the majority of the country, with 95 per cent of the country to have 24mbps next year.

"[But] the price we paid for part fibre is that only 2 per cent of the country has full fibre."

He said: "New entrants have shown a full-fibre solution can be economic," citing the Gigabit City project in York, and companies such as Gigaclear bringing fibre to the Cotswolds.

"Our task is to make the market as competitive as possible... by forcing BT to open up access to and maps of its ducts and poles... and clarity in advertising rules."

He said: "Fibre is the future," adding that part-fibre solutions such as BT's g.fast and Virgin's DOCSIS were a good interim answer for faster speeds.

"To those who say it has been tried and failed, I say go to Hull.

"It’s the one part of the country not covered by BT, and full fibre is now available to over half its businesses and homes. I’d like to give praise to Hull’s KCOM, who just last week announced that 25,000 more homes and businesses are to be connected to their full fibre service within the next six months.

"Between May this year and the end of the next they will have doubled the number of premises that can get full fibre. All this without government subsidy."

He said: "The future is about gigabit speeds, and high quality connectivity. Demand is only going to rise. When it comes to fibre, it is a case of not if but when."

On the subject of the universal service obligation, he noted that was something legislated for in 2004 for 28kbps. "So while 10mpbs might feel like enough for today's needs, it won’t be enough for tomorrow."

At a separate session organised by the Independent Networks Cooperative Association he said: "The way we are putting the USO into law, it will be regularly reviewed. It will be reviewed upwards overtime. The mistake [in the past] has been to put specific figure into the rules and then not review it."

He noted that by next year all four operators will have the legal obligation to reach 90 per cent of landmass by next year. He said free Wi-fi should be available on 100 per cent of trains by 2020.

When asked what the government was doing to address plans to hike up broadband rates he declined to make an announcement ahead of the budget.

"All I need to say it is on my radar.. working with fibre providers to find a solution."

On the question of whether the market would be better served if Openreach were separated from BT he was equally circumspect, saying he did not wish to step on Ofcom's toes.

The Register asked Hancock if there was an update on the long-awaited digital-strategy and was told: "Watch this space." ®

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