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New legislation could 'reduce cost' of fibre rollout

The government is considering new laws to make super-fast broadband available to more of the UK and to increase the number of broadband providers
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The coalition government is considering new legislation to cut the cost of rolling out high-speed broadband across the UK, in order to get fibre access to more areas and to encourage new companies to become broadband providers.

The government believes reducing the investment needed to lay fibre could spur more extensive fibre rollout than has been planned so far, a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said on Thursday.

"The next generation of broadband is essential to our future prosperity," the spokesperson told ZDNet UK. "The UK has made a start on deployment, but we want to go further. Steps now to reduce the cost could make a significant contribution to availability and open the market to new players.

"We need to do more work to understand what changes may be required and whether further legislation is required, for instance, to give regulators the right powers to look across different utilities and provide access where it is needed."

The news came as the government laid out its broadband plans in its comprehensive policy announcement on Thursday. These plans include adopting the Conservative policy of using part of the BBC TV licence fee to "fund broadband in areas that the market alone will not reach", and trying to "introduce super-fast broadband in remote areas at the same time as in more populated areas".

Before the election, the Liberal Democrats supported the then Labour government's plans to introduce a 50p-per-month levy on all fixed lines to fund rural fibre. That policy, which never had the Conservatives' support, was dropped by Labour just ahead of the election. The Tories campaigned on a promise to extend 100Mbps broadband to the majority of the UK within seven years.

In Thursday's policy announcement, the coalition said it would "ensure that BT and other infrastructure providers allow the use of their assets to deliver such broadband". This is a frequently repeated Tory policy, but BT has already said it intends to share its ducts with rival providers as long as there is some reciprocity.

Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, was on Wednesday put in charge of overseeing the UK's fibre rollout. BT has already begun its fibre deployment in earnest, and recently said it would extend its plans to cover two-thirds of all households.

"All parties have acknowledged that there will be some parts of the country where some form of public sector stimulus will be necessary, as the government have acknowledged again today," a BT spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

"BT has already committed to opening up its infrastructure to other providers, and we welcome any plans for others to follow suit," the spokesperson added.

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