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Birmingham leads the UK in major new drive for ultrafast broadband as Openreach

Clive Selley

Birmingham will be one of the first cities to benefit from proposals announced by Openreach for a major acceleration of its ultrafast fibre broadband network

Openreach, Britain’s national broadband infrastructure provider, has announced proposals to extend by 50 per cent its target for rolling out Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) to reach 3 million premises across the UK by the end of 2020 through a new ‘Fibre First’ programme. Eight major cities - Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester - make up the first phase of Openreach’s Fibre First programme which will connect up to 40 UK towns, cities and boroughs with FTTP networks, with build starting in 2018.

It is expected that tens of thousands of Birmingham homes and businesses will benefit from this latest multi million pound expansion. Further details of the roll-out in the city are expected to be announced later in the year. According to independent website thinkbroadband, 96.6 per cent of Birmingham households and businesses already have access to superfast broadband speeds of 24Mbps and above.

Openreach will continue to focus on delivering FTTP to rural areas, in partnership with the Government, to make sure some of the hardest to reach communities in the UK, get access to future-proofed, FTTP networks. Clive Selley, Chief Executive of Openreach, said: “Through the Fibre First programme, Openreach is getting on with the job of building an Ultrafast Britain. We are accelerating our plans to build FTTP to three million premises by 2020 which sets the course to reach ten million by the mid-2020s with the right conditions. Where possible going forward, we will ‘fibre first’. Working closely with central and local government and our communication provider customers, we will identify the cities, towns and rural areas where we can build a future-proofed, FTTP network that’s capable of delivering gigabit speeds to all homes and businesses at an affordable cost. We’ll continue to invest in our people and we’re already in the process of re-training and upskilling to make Fibre First a reality. We plan to hire around 3,000 engineers in 2018/19 to kick-start Fibre First and further improve the reliability and performance of our existing networks.”

Reaching three million premises by 2020 sets Openreach on the right trajectory to achieve its ambition of building a ten million FTTP footprint by the mid-2020s and, if the conditions are right, to go significantly beyond, bringing the benefits of FTTP to the majority homes and businesses across the UK. Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “I committed in my manifesto to helping every business and household in the West Midlands have access to superfast broadband and this announcement by Openreach to provide ultrafast broadband is an important step in this. A world-class city deserves world-class digital infrastructure, and we believe full-fibre technology will be key to unlocking the long-term productivity of businesses in this region, particularly our vibrant tech and digital businesses.

But there is more to it than just the economic benefits. Ultrafast broadband also has the potential to transform lives and support a better, fairer and more inclusive society. This technology will enable the delivery of more effective public services online, and support for this region’s residents to access resources and services online that can improve their health, skills and general wellbeing.”

Richard Hall, Openreach’s Infrastructure Delivery Director for the West Midlands, said: “This latest multi million pound investment in Birmingham by Openreach will give a vital boost to the city’s households and businesses. For our vibrant business community, which is known for its innovation, it will mean more firms benefiting from the huge opportunities offered by this exciting technology to attract new customers, provide new services and work more efficiently. Local households, too, will find ultrafast broadband a major step forward when they go online for reasons ranging from training and research to shopping, staying in touch with friends and family and entertainment.”

The pace and extent of this large-scale investment will depend on the speed with which the conditions to enable an acceptable return on the investment are secured. Support is needed from communication providers (CPs), central and local government and the regulator to deliver key enablers, including: achieving low build and connection costs; achieving rapid take-up of and generating incremental revenue from the platform; and having a supportive regulatory and public policy framework. As with any infrastructure investment, if Openreach is unable to secure an acceptable return, it will need to review its ongoing capital commitments to the programme.