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Britain needs to get its gigabit act together – report

A new report by research firm Assembly, commissioned by Huawei, tried to put the frighteners on the UK government to get its gigabit act together. Or so it seemed to Light Reading.

Any tardiness on delivering gigabit-capable broadband to the entire UK by 2025 (the ambitious "Gigabit Britain" target) Assembly warned, and the economy will kiss goodbye to billions of pounds.

According to its calculations, a 12-month delay in achieving the 2025 target could mean the UK misses out on £9.7 billion (US$12 billion) in lost productivity benefits. A two-year lag? That might see as much as £28.7 billion ($35.7 billion) go up in smoke.

Get Gigabit Britain right, though, and there's the promise of considerable financial upside.

Assembly reckons that extending gigabit-capable broadband throughout the UK by 2025 could provide £51.4 billion ($63.7 billion) in gross value-add to the economy in five years' time. By 2030 this number may reach £68.8 billion ($85.5 billion).

While the UK is a "world leader" in superfast broadband, with more than 95% of premises covered, Assembly – somewhat diplomatically – flagged full fiber as an area in which the UK "lags behind."

UK broadband lobby groups might call it plain embarrassing. Figures released last week by FTTH Council Europe, compiled by market research firm IDATE, saw the UK languishing third from bottom in a ranking of European countries by FTTH/B penetration. It chalked a measly 2.8% as of September 2019. Only Serbia and Austria fared worse. Spain, Sweden, Latvia, Belarus and Iceland are miles ahead with FTTH/B penetration rates in excess of 50%.

Assembly makes several recommendations about how superfast broadband in the UK might turn into Gigabit Britain within the five-year timeframe.

Among them is that there should be sufficient government subsidy and funding models for non-commercial areas to ensure full coverage, as well as to take a technology-neutral approach. Making sure there is enough competition to encourage innovation and lower prices (in places that can economically support multiple infrastructures) is another regulatory challenge.

Assembly further highlighted easier access to wayleaves and clearer planning guidance (so avoiding clashes between local and government thinking) and stimulating gigabit demand to lower investment risk – helped perhaps by the government moving more services online – as other areas deserving attention.

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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