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Independent networks reach the parts other providers leave behind

INCA welcomes Public Accounts Committee report, but argues for greater recognition of the work of independent providers around the country

While the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has raised valid concerns about the Governments’ plans to ensure the very hardest to reach areas are not being left behind by the larger market players, INCA has pointed out that its members continue to build new digital infrastructure in areas left behind by BT Openreach and Virgin Media.

“The independent sector is already playing a critical role in delivering the government’s target of a gigabit Britain, especially in areas the incumbent firms don’t think are commercially viable”, said INCA CEO Malcolm Corbett. “Last year we published a report showing that over 2.5m homes and businesses in the UK could now connect to an independent fibre broadband network, many of which are located in areas considered hard to reach. When this year’s report is published [planned for Spring 2022] we expect that number to have dramatically increased during 2021”. 

B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) is one such example. They have deployed a 1Gbps capable full fibre (FTTP) network serving almost 10,000 properties in villages and hamlets in rural areas of the North-West, offering connection to 100% of properties in every community they serve. Fellow ‘alt-net’ WightFibre has connected 32,000 homes and businesses across the Isle of Wight with full-fibre internet and the figure is set to rise to over 60,000 in 2022. There are many other examples too, and the vast majority of independent network deployments are taking place without significant (if any) public subsidy, other than BDUK connection vouchers which help cover the costs of connecting the most remote premises.

“We have a great opportunity in this country to create a truly gigabit Britain and radically reduce the country’s digital divide. INCA believes that the best way to achieve this is by encouraging a competitive market of players to rapidly build new networks across the country, often focusing on specific regions or geo-types. Deterring the competitive investment that has done so much over recent years to accelerate the pace of new fibre deployment will slow fibre roll out in all areas, something that will be of concern to MPs from all parts of the country. If it is to achieve its targets then DCMS needs to shift its focus towards delivering more agile interventions that encourage independent networks to bid and away from designing large, time-consuming procurements which are only really suitable for the incumbent operator”, Mr Corbett continued.