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Copper switch-off date proposed to force ISPs to roll out full fibre to homes

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Chancellor Philip Hammond has said the government will announce a date for the switch off of legacy copper telecoms networks in a bid to encourage ISPs to boost investment in laying down full fibre connections around the UK.

According to the BBC’s ‘Today programme Hammond said he wanted the industry to set the date but that the government would intervene if not.

Twenty million households are currently reliant on slow copper wires, which cannot provide the speeds that are possible with a full fibre connection.

The government has committed to a Universal Service Obligation (USO) whereby every household in the UK will be entitled to receive 10Mbps speeds by 2020.

Although in June peers in the House of Lords said that that plan was “unambitious” and would perpetuate the digital divide. 

While the timeframe for copper switch off has not yet been announced, a recent report published by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) recommended that copper wires should be switched off within seven years.

The NIC has also called for complete fibre coverage of the UK by 2033 which would leave the pre-existing copper network redundant, although no concrete government funds have materialised to make this plan a reality thus far.

Commenting on the Chancellor’s comments, Greg Mesch, CEO of network infrastructure firm CityFibre, said: “Switching off the copper network is a vital part of moving the UK to a full fibre future, but leaving decisions on how it is done in the hands of the incumbent risks imposing costs and delays on consumers.

“As (Openreach CEO) Clive Selley’s comments on the ‘Today programme make clear, Openreach’s approach to the switchover would result in unnecessary and unwelcome price rises for both consumers and internet service providers.        

“To put consumers and businesses at the heart of the full fibre upgrade, the government needs to harness the competitive benefits of new market entrants and set out a carefully managed copper switch off process that prevents Openreach from hijacking the migration process, as this would re-establish its monopoly position and hold back the UK’s digital economy.”

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