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Government fights for broadband regulation overhaul

14 Nov 2012
The Houses of Parliament in London

Government MPs are lobbying for changes to the plans for the deployment superfast broadband infrastructure around the UK to help ensure the nation reaches its target of 25Mbit/s and above for all citizens by 2015.

The government first unveiled plans to reduce bureaucracy around rollouts earlier this year, when Maria Miller, the newly-appointed Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), announced plans under a new Growth and Infrastructure Bill.

This included making it easier for telecoms firms like BT or Virgin Media to access ducts to install fibre or access telegraph poles to run fibre into home overhead, as BT is currently doing in Cornwall.

On Tuesday, MPs debated the bill at the second reading stage in Parliament, with Michael Fallon, a minister of state for business and enterprise in the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) department, outlining the current problems with the existing legislation.

"Good broadband is scarcest in the countryside. The percentage of households with no or slow broadband in 2010 was 23 percent in rural areas as opposed to only five percent in urban areas," he said.

"The changes in secondary legislation, which will be limited to five years to incentivise providers, are required because, even in the very best cases, it currently takes twice as long to install infrastructure, causing uncertainty and delay.

"In some cases, operators have faced delays of up to two years in reaching agreement on the siting of equipment."

However, some MPs, including Conservative MP Bob Blackman and Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, questioned whether the legislation could have a negative impact on the UK countryside.

"Can the Minister guarantee that [the Bill] will not lead to mobile phone masts, telegraph poles and large cabinets cluttering up and ruining areas of outstanding natural beauty and our national parks?" Blackman-Woods asked.

Fallon acknowledged the concerned, but insisted the changes would not allow more mobile phones to be installed, and that local authorities could still involve themselves in any planning decisions.

"What is at issue is only cabinets and poles. The legislation does not extend to masts. There are already overhead poles in some parts of the country," he said.

"To allow overhead poles in other parts where they are currently being held up will reduce the cost of broadband deployment by between 15 percent and 20 percent in rural areas.

"Local authorities will of course retain an important role. As so much of the deployment is being publicly funded, it will be up to the provider to satisfy the local authority as to how the delivery will be rolled out."

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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