Openreach commits to the largest full-fibre broadband build in the hardest to reach ‘final third’ of the UK – boosting the country’s post-Covid economic recovery
Openreach today outlined plans to make ultra-reliable and gigabit-capable FTTP broadband available to more than three million homes and businesses in some of the UK’s hardest to serve communities. This follows a new consultation from industry regulator Ofcom, published today, where it proposes that such a build commitment from Openreach is sufficient for them to extend the fibre enablers previously set out in their WFTMR ii consultation for Area 2 iii, to Area 3. This will contribute to the right investment conditions for Area 3 being in place. Ofcom has estimated that there are 9.6 million homes and businesses situated in this final third of the country.
The build to 3.2m UK premises forms part of a massive £12 billion investment which will see Openreach’s ambition to build ‘Full Fibre’ iv infrastructure to 20 million premises throughout the UK by the mid-to-late 2020s – delivering significant economic, social and environmental benefits for rural and urban communities, assuming the right regulatory and political fibre enablers are in place.
The company is also publishing an extended list of 251 locations in the final third where it will build the new network over the next three years v including the likes of Millom, Thurso, Ballycastle and Aberystwyth.
The data provides more clarity on its plans - giving greater certainty to local authorities, investors and customers - and supports the Government’s strategy to accelerate commercial investments in Full Fibre networks throughout the UK.
Clive Selley, Openreach CEO, said: “This year we’ve all seen the importance of having a decent broadband connection and at Openreach, we’re convinced that Full Fibre technology can underpin the UK’s economic recovery.
“Right now, we’re building a new, ultra-reliable full-fibre network that will boost productivity, cut commuting and carbon emissions, and connect our families, public services and businesses for decades to come. It’s Ofcom’s proposals that give us the right conditions to build commercially in hardest to reach areas.
“We’re determined to find inventive engineering solutions and effective partnership funding models to reduce costs and enable us to connect as many communities as possible across the UK without public subsidy.
“Openreach is leading the charge to help Government achieve its target of making gigabit capable networks available nationwide by 2025. And we hope that by publishing our own plans, we can help ensure that taxpayers only fund connections in communities that really need public support.”
Oliver Dowden, Digital Secretary, said: "Fast and secure internet connections will be a vital tool to help our economy recover and we have committed £5 billion to make sure the hardest-to-reach areas of the UK aren’t left behind."Today’s announcement is a significant step forward, with Openreach delivering better broadband so 3.2 million families and businesses can work and enjoy faster speeds."
Felicity Burch, CBI Director of Digital, said: “Digital connectivity has been vital for companies’ survival during the Covid-19 outbreak as staff increasingly work from home and firms find innovative ways to engage customers online.
“Openreach’s announcement is welcome news for rural businesses. It will lay the necessary groundwork for firms to adopt new technology and help ensure even more people in rural areas can have faster, more reliable connections.
“Improving our digital infrastructure is a key step in building back better and future-proofing the UK economy against any further disruption.”
Tim Bonner, CEO, Countryside Alliance said: “This commitment will provide a great economic boost for rural areas, where it’s clear connectivity has traditionally lagged behind more urban areas.
“As we have seen during the COVID pandemic, digital connectivity has been essential for the millions who are home schooling and working from home. If we are all to play our part in rebuilding the economy, then good digital connectivity across the country is absolutely essential, so we welcome this important move.”
Mark Bridgeman, CLA President said: “This announcement from Openreach is a welcome step towards eradicating the digital divide between urban and rural areas.
“Connectivity has played a vital part in home working during the Covid-19 pandemic and, with many individuals and businesses considering a move to the countryside, it’s essential that rural communities continue to receive better coverage.
“Greater digital connectivity in the countryside will play a critical role in the nation’s economic recovery, allowing businesses to invest, grow and recruit long into the future.”
There are clear economic, social and environmental benefits to building full fibre in rural areas. A report by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) – “Full fibre broadband: A platform for growth” has revealed that with a future-proof and reliable fibre connection to every property by 2025:
- UK productivity would be boosted by £59 billion each year
- Half a million people could be brought back into the workforce through enhanced connectivity enabling them to carry out parenting or caring responsibilities alongside work
- At least 400,000 more people could work from home, allowing them to live and work where they choose
- 270,000 people could be freed to move out of cities in rural areas – helping stimulate regional and rural economic growth
- 300 million commuting trips could be saved each year, with three billion fewer kilometres travelled by car – which would lead to an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of 360,000 tonnes
Openreach has already built Full Fibre technology to over three million premises across the UK – including over a quarter in the final third of the country. People interested in seeing whether they can upgrade their broadband can see what’s available in their area by entering their postcode into our online fibre checker.
I Area 3 definition - a geographic market comprising postcode sectors where there is unlikely to be material commercial deployment by rival networks. Definition is taken from para 7.6b on p 84 of WFTMR vol.2, found here.
ii Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review (WFTMR) definition - this document sets out our detailed plans for regulation from April 2021 of the fixed telecoms markets that underpin broadband, mobile and business connections. Definition is taken from the consultation here.
iii Area 2 definition - a geographic market comprising postcode sectors where there is already some material commercial deployment by rival networks. Definition is taken from para 7.6a on p 83 of WFTMR vol.2, found here
iv Full Fibre broadband uses fibre optic cables to connect the exchange directly to each premises. Full Fibre connections are capable of download and upload speeds over 1 Gbps. It is currently the fastest and most reliable broadband technology.
v In 2018, Openreach committed with DCMS to publish a forward-looking view of build plans under its Fibre First Cities programme and to keep it updated on a rolling basis. Through 2019 and 2020, Openreach has built on this approach to publish its build plans for both its Fibre First Cities and its market towns and villages.
For more information, visit www.openreach.co.uk.
Openreach Limited is the UK’s digital network business.
We’re more than 35,000 people, working in every community to connect homes, schools, shops, banks, hospitals, libraries, mobile phone masts, broadcasters, governments and businesses – large and small – to the world.
Our mission is to build the best possible network, with the highest quality service, making sure that everyone in the UK can be connected.
We work on behalf of more than 665 communications providers like BT, SKY, TalkTalk, Vodafone, and Zen, and our broadband network is the biggest in the UK, passing more than 31.8m premises.
Over the last decade we’ve invested more than £15 billion into our network and, at more than 190 million kilometres – it’s now long enough to wrap around the world 4,798 times.
Today we’re building an even faster, more reliable and future-proof broadband network which will be the UK’s digital platform for decades to come. We’re making progress towards our full fibre optic network target to reach 25 million premises by December 2026. Research shows a nationwide Full Fibre network could potentially provide a £59bn boost to UK productivity.
To help build the new fibre network and deliver better service across the country – we’ve created and filled more than 9,000 apprenticeship roles in the last two years and we’re recruiting another 1,000 trainee roles in Openreach in 2021. We’re also building greener – we operate the UK’s second largest commercial fleet and want to help lead the transition to electric vehicles, with a target to transition our fleet to being electric in 2030.
Openreach is a highly regulated, wholly owned, and independently governed unit of the BT Group. More than 90 per cent of our revenues come from services that are regulated by Ofcom and any company can access our products under equivalent prices, terms and conditions.
For the year ended 31 March 2021, we reported revenue of £5,244m.
For more information, visit www.openreach.co.uk