Northern leaders warn against inefficient investment in full fibre networks

Date published: 27 March 2019

Northern Powerhouse leaders have warned that the North faces the prospect of a digital and economic divide caused by an uncoordinated and inefficient rollout of full fibre across the UK.

In an open letter, more than 20 town and city leaders across the North of England, including Sir Richard Leese, Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester and lead on economic strategy, said that the welcome wave of private investment in our digital infrastructure could be undermined if two or more full fibre networks are built in the same locations. This duplicative approach, they argue, could double disruption, while other parts of the Northern Powerhouse risk missing out altogether.

In response to this threat, the leaders are calling on infrastructure providers, marshalled by government and Ofcom, to ensure that the maximum possible coverage is delivered in the shortest possible time. This will ensure the entire country can realise the full economic and social benefits of next generation infrastructure.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, who organised the letter, have called on government, as part of their recent Next Steps for the Northern Powerhouse report, to deliver full fibre to the premises (FTTP) to every business and home in the top 30 Northern towns and cities by 2025.

The report claimed that 50% full fibre coverage across the Northern Powerhouse would be worth £26.2bn to the economy, rising to £47.2bn with 90% coverage. At 90% coverage, additional (Gross Value Addded) GVA ranges from £122.4m in Halifax to £5.2bn in Leeds.

At present, the government has committed to delivering a nationwide rollout of full fibre networks by 2033 with 15 million UK premises to have access by 2025. The new full fibre networks will ensure homes and businesses have reliable broadband services, with unlimited bandwidth and internet speeds of up to 1000Mbps. This initiative is expected to boost economic productivity and support innovation.

Much of this rollout will be funded and delivered by private network builders and Northern Leaders have backed the government’s approach to promote competition between multiple providers at the national level to successfully deliver full fibre.

Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison said: "Towns and cities across the Northern Powerhouse eagerly anticipate full fibre roll-out and its transformative potential to unlock productivity. But this letter highlights leaders’ concern that the North's full fibre future is at risk from uncoordinated investment, acting against the interests of business and home customers.

“In some cases we are seeing the needless duplication of full fibre networks, whilst at the same time other Northern towns and cities with no planned investment risk being left behind on antiquated copper networks - missing out on the huge benefits full fibre brings.

“If we are to close the productivity gap between North and South we need to be attracting businesses to come here and help others grow. Digital connectivity can and must play a major role.”

In brief, the letter calls for:

  • Full fibre providers to build out towns and cities in full and at pace, ensuring coverage to as many premises as possible by 2025;
  • Full fibre providers to prioritise efficient full fibre rollout across whole towns and cities, recognising the urgent need for every area of the UK to have access to full fibre and the crucial role a vibrant multi-player market will play;
  • Government and Ofcom to create a regulatory framework that takes a proactive approach to monitoring, investigating and cracking down on anti-competitive behaviour that undermines efficient investment and threatens competition.

The letter’s signatories determine that it is in the interest of towns and cities across the North, as well as those across the whole of the UK, that industry delivers the maximum possible coverage in the shortest possible time, avoiding the pitfall of duplicative investment.

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