Wednesday 25 November 2020 4:03 pm

Government backtracks on full-fibre broadband rollout pledge

The government has backtracked on its pledge to bring full-fibre broadband to the whole of the UK by 2025.

The promise to reach all premises across the country with gigabit-capable speeds was a key part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s manifesto at the last election.

Read more: Full-fibre broadband firm Hyperoptic opens new London headquarters

But in its national infrastructure strategy published today, the government watered down its commitment, saying it would only reach 85 per cent of premises over the next five years.

“The government is working with industry to target a minimum of 85 per cent gigabit capable coverage by 2025, but will seek to accelerate rollout further to get as close to 100 per cent as possible,” it said.

It came as chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that £1.2bn will be spent on rolling out full-fibre broadband by 2025 — part of the £5bn fund already announced.

The government said more than a third of UK premises now have access to gigabit-capable connections — up from nine per cent when it took office in July 2019.

But industry leaders have raised concerns about the slow pace of the rollout and the challenge of bringing next-generation broadband to remote rural areas.

BT boss Philip Jansen has previously warned that the rollout target would be missed by eight years without sweeping sector reforms, such as business rates cuts and a relaxation of planning laws.

An industry source told City A.M. the watering down of the pledge was “actually quite surprising”.

“There’s not question that a better connected country is important for our recovery from the pandemic,” they said, adding that in the long term the decision was “not quite as sensible as it might appear”.

Matthew Howett, principal analyst at Assembly Research, said: “The original target for 2025 was always an ambitious one, but crucially one that industry felt it could deliver with the right enabling regulatory environment.”

“While progress was made with that, a number of barriers still remain. To depart from the original target with four years still left to run suggests perhaps that mountains can’t be moved after all, and the remaining barriers are permanent ones.”

Read more: Government ‘likely to miss’ 2025 full-fibre broadband target

The need for a widespread upgrade to internet speeds has been highlighted by the surge in home working during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to culture secretary Oliver Dowden last month, a group of UK firms warned the failure to bring full-fibre to all parts of the UK by 2025 would “disproportionately” impact small businesses.