UK fibre fund risks ‘bureaucratic car crash’, warns Openreach boss
BORIS JOHNSON’s £5bn fibre broadband plan risks degenerating into a “bureaucratic car crash” as network executives warn delays could derail the ambitious project.
The Prime Minister’s UK-wide plan to supply every house with “gigabit capable” broadband by 2025 was announced last summer, but is still being thrashed out with telecoms bosses.
Clive Selley, chief executive of Openreach, BT’s infrastructure arm, warned the complexity of the Government’s proposals could slow down the project. He said initial plans would see more than 1,000 lots up for grabs.
“The early chatter has been talk of 1,200 or 1,400 lots, and that is just a bureaucratic car crash,” he said. “For a big player, we want two or three contracts with a big price tag.”
Mr Selley added Openreach would need at least two years to train the required engineers to connect millions of homes to fibre. He estimated 7,500 engineers would be needed to connect an additional 3m homes. “I have training capacity for 4,000 per annum, so we’d rather get going on Monday, not Monday 2021,” he said.
The comments come amid talks with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to agree how the £5bn subsidy will be distributed to industry.
A DCMS spokesman said: “We are working closely with industry to refine our unprecedented £5bn plans to connect the hardest-to-reach areas with gigabit-capable broadband. People in these areas would otherwise be left behind and we are moving forward at pace in a way that will deliver value for money and promote competition.”
While Openreach is the UK’s largest fibre provider, there are also hopes smaller firms, such as CityFibre and Gigaclear, will take on contracts.
BT has committed £12bn to accelerate the deployment of fibre broadband to 20m homes over the next decade. Fibre optic wires boost connections, meaning an HD film can download in less than two minutes. Improving fibre connections is also seen as key to better home working.
However, the industry remains concerned that further delays to the £5bn investment will make the 2025 goal hard to reach. One source said: “The clock is ticking. If the 2025 target is met it will not be Jan 1, 2025, it will be more like Dec 31.”
Separately, Three has become the latest mobile firm to demand this year’s 5G spectrum auction be scrapped. The UK’s ban on new Huawei kit has meant Three has stepped up plans to pick another vendor. Its main 5G equipment supplier has been the Chinese firm.
Three joins Vodafone in demanding the auction be cancelled, with spectrum instead allocated at a price agreed between the networks themselves.