Earlier this week the Government announced 95 per cent of the country are now able to experience high speed broadband and all the benefits that brings.
Passing more than 27 million homes and businesses with superfast broadband is a momentous milestone, but it is also a stepping stone to something much bigger.
Today the UK is a world leader in digital infrastructure and services of all kinds. We have the largest digital economy in the G20. We’re the biggest internet shoppers on the planet, leaders in programming and innovation, a hotspot for financial technology and a magnet for start-ups.
But we are also in the grips of a technological revolution. The internet is now something that touches virtually every aspect of our lives and its empowering influence is growing and evolving at an electrifying pace and shows no signs of slowing. The statistics speak for themselves. Just three years ago, Britons used less than half the data they do now on their home broadband. Average speeds were a third of what they are now. I’ve talked to many people in my visits across the UK for whom the internet is now an essential part of daily life – from the kids doing their homework, to filing your tax return or running a kitchen table business.
In order to stay afloat on this digital tidal wave, we need to invest in the next generation of faster broadband technology – Fibre to the Premises (FTTP).
We believe investing in FTTP is the right thing to do for the UK. We’ve already made a start – with half a million premises in Britain with access to FTTP – a majority in rural areas.
But we want to go further.
Today sees the launch of our ‘fibre first programme’ – which fires the starting pistol on a potentially huge upgrade of critical UK infrastructure.
Fibre first is more than just a programme. It’s about how Openreach thinks, and is approaching the challenge of building a large-scale FTTP network for the UK. That means wherever we can in the future, we will build ‘fibre first’ - including in rural areas.
As a first step, we’re accelerating our FTTP build programme by 50% to reach three million homes and businesses by the end of 2020. We’re keen to get going and building work will start in a few months in an initial eight cities – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London, and Manchester.
Reaching three million premises by 2020 sets Openreach on the right trajectory to achieve its ambition of building a ten million FTTP footprint by the mid-2020s and, if the conditions are right, to go significantly beyond, bringing the benefits of FTTP to the majority of homes and businesses across the UK.
FTTP is fast – currently up to 1Gbps – enough to stream 200 HD movies simultaneously – but has the potential to go even faster. Last summer Openreach launched the world’s first ever live demonstration of a 100Gbps or ‘hyperfast’ broadband service. So we know it can provide a future-proofed digital platform that can boost productivity for decades to come.
Three million by 2020 might not seem a lot – but connecting every individual property to a full fibre connection is a massive task and takes significant time, engineering and manpower. The job of “fibering” the UK will take decades.
That’s why we can’t do it alone. Openreach needs to prove it can build FTTP at scale for a competitive cost. Last year, our consultation with industry helped us identify a set of enablers to help us do this. For example, we need a supportive public policy and regulatory environment that encourages infrastructure investment. We need to get the costs of delivering fibre down and ensure that there is demand for and take up of the new FTTP platform.
We are already making progress for example – we’ve halved the cost of delivering fibre all the way to people’s homes and we’re piloting new ways of working with local government to cut red tape, simplify wayleaves and traffic management. We are also working with our wholesale customers on how to achieve rapid take-up on the new platform and get the incremental revenue needed to help pay for it.
I’m under no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead – it is a massive technical, financial and logistical exercise, but we have the people, the scale, the desire and the expertise to do it.
I believe Openreach can be at the heart of this digital revolution and has a critical role to play in ensuring the UK has a FTTP network, fit for the future. The prize for our wholesale customers, their customers and the UK as a whole is huge.