Communications Bill clause could help extend broadband

Building Broadband Britain: Local authorities across the Broadband Divide could soon be able to tempt telcos to offer services in their area by providing some of the network infrastructure themselves

The UK government has been congratulated for deciding to make it easier for organisations such as community action groups, local authorities and construction groups to install the infrastructure needed for broadband to be rolled out across the whole of Britain.

A new clause has been added to the Communications Bill, published last week, to allow third party civil infrastructure providers to build telecoms infrastructure such as ducts and masts. Currently, a company has to be a telecoms operator to have such powers.

Organisations such as the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) believe it is important to allow third parties to provide such infrastructure, as it could reduce the cost of extending broadband networks and allow operators to share facilities.

Speaking at the Building Broadband Britain conference last week, Keith Todd -- chairman of the BSG -- welcomed the government's move.

"I'd like to pass on our great thanks to the DTI for making this opportunity possible," said Todd. "The BSG is not saying that third party civil infrastructure is absolutely the answer, but our job is to identify everything that is blocking our progress, be it technical or legislative," he added.

In its latest report, which was also published last week, the BSG had recommended that the government should allow the provision of civil infrastructure.

The BSG believes it would mean a local authority in a broadband black spot could decide to create the necessary infrastructure itself, in partnership with a financial backer. Once built, this infrastructure could be leased to several operators.

Up to 70 percent of the cost of rolling out telecommunications services is spent on primary infrastructure, according to the BSG, so removing this upfront cost could encourage operators to offer broadband to more parts of the UK.

The DTI has said the decision to give more powers to third party players was made back in September, but only announced last week when the Communications Bill was published.

Malcolm Taylor, public policy adviser at Telewest Broadband UK, has also welcomed the new powers. He told the Building Broadband Britain conference that the move would help Ofcom to "play a pivotal role in implementing broadband in the future".

Some in the industry have suggested that allowing third parties to provide telecoms infrastructure could result in the creation of a next-generation local loop that would duplicate some of the functionality of BT's existing network of local exchanges.

It could also make it easier for BT to offer faster broadband technologies such as VDSL, which needs a fibre-optic path from BT's street-side cabinets to the local exchange.

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