Monday 27 April 2020 2:30 pm

Delays to UK’s full-fibre broadband rollout ‘could cost £30bn’

Delays to the government’s plan to roll out superfast broadband across the country could see the UK lose almost £30bn in economic benefits, according to research published today.

Telecoms analysts warned a 12-month delay to the 2025 target would mean the UK misses out on a £9.7bn boost to the economy, while a two-year setback would cost £28.7bn.

The government has outlined a £5bn plan to deliver gigabit-capable broadband — which is up to 40 times faster than standard superfast connections — to all parts of the country by the middle of the decade.

However, industry experts have warned that the rollout could be hampered by regulatory barriers and a lack of commercial incentives to build the network in remote rural areas.

These issues have been compounded by the coronavirus lockdown, though Openreach — which is leading the UK rollout — has said it is on track to hit its target of reaching 4m homes by the end of March 2021.

The report, compiled by Assembly Research, called on the government to provide funding for the rollout in non-commercial locations to ensure rural areas were not left behind.

It also urged policymakers to support the entry and expansion of alternative network operators such as Cityfibre, Fibrenation and Gigaclear.

The analysts called for deployment costs to be kept as low as possible by addressing remaining barriers that both increase costs and cause delays.

“Access to reliable, future-proof digital infrastructure for all isn’t a luxury, but now accepted as a necessity whether it’s used for work, education or play,” said Matthew Howett, principal analyst and founder of Assembly Research.

“Increasing investment in key digital infrastructure will provide the bounce-back and economic recovery the UK will desperately need in the months and years ahead.”

The report, commissioned by Chinese tech giant Huawei, said that while the UK had made significant progress in both mobile and fixed-connection coverage, it continued to lag behind other countries for full-fibre broadband.

However, if the barriers are overcome, the rollout could deliver an economic boost of up to £50bn in the next five years, it added.

“Achieving the government’s ambitions for broadband will need a massive effort, significant investment from the private sector, and a faster build rate than virtually any other country has achieved,” said Catherine Colloms, director of corporate affairs and brand for Openreach.

“There has already been some progress on removing barriers, but action is needed to improve access rights for apartment blocks, make street works simpler and remove business rates on full fibre. Network builders need the right conditions to invest and the right policies to encourage a fast, efficient build.”