Builders could be forced to make all new homes broadband-friendly by installing cable ducts and chambers into the fabric of the building if government proposals published earlier this month become law.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has presented the building industry with several possible changes to existing regulations. They would, if implemented, help increase broadband take-up by making it much easier for households to install cables in and around their home, and the most far-reaching would cost the building industry an estimated £70m per year.
The proposed changes are laid out in a partial regulatory impact assessment (RIA), which explains that they are part of the government's drive to improve the take-up of digital services such as broadband.
The RIA considers whether people are being inhibited from moving to high-speed Internet services by the amount of inconvenience involved in installing equipment in their homes. If so, the government believes it would be sensible to force the building industry to make this process easier by installing cable ducts and related infrastructure into the fabric of dwellings.
"For example, the current means of installation and distribution of broadband services around a building may require ladder access, high and low level drilling and the lifting of floorboards," explained the government in its consultation document.
"If a building was provided with horizontal and vertical ducting it may be that all is needed is the feeding of cables through the ducting, which could be undertaken with minimal skills."
Five options have been proposed. One is to do nothing, while a second is just to "promote good practice" within the building industry about this issue.
The remaining three choices are meatier. Option three would add three new requirements, forcing builders to ensure that cables could be "more easily installed retrospectively" from the boundary of the site to the building without the need for ground works; to ensure that a broadband connection -- either terrestrial or satellite -- can easily be fed into the building; and to ensure that once inside it can be "readily distributed" to each floor of the building, perhaps by providing "a network of accessible ducts and risers."
Option four is just to implement the first of the proposed requirements in option three, and option five is to implement the first two.
It is estimated that option three would add some £460 to the cost of building a new house, and £325 to the cost of building a new flat or maisonette. In total, the national cost would be some £61m for houses and £7m for flats.
"This consultation is part of a cross-government drive to make the social and economic benefits of e-commerce and the Internet open to everyone within two years," said Chris Leslie, the minister responsible for building regulations, in a statement, adding that: "We aim to make the UK the best environment for e-commerce with access to the Internet for everyone who wants it and all government services available on line by 2005."
No change will be made, though, unless the government is convinced of the benefits.
"We would need to be sure that new regulations were the most effective way forward, that they would achieve the objective of significantly increasing broadband take-up and that they would not impose unjustified or disproportionate burdens on the building industry or other affected sectors," explained Leslie.
Interested parties have until 13 June 2003 to submit their views on the consultation to the government. A full copy of the proposals can be seen here.