FTTP: The government perspective

Justin Leese is the Programme Director of Building Digital UK’, part of the Government’s Digital Culture Media and Sport’ department. He’s responsible for delivering the UK’s full fibre roll out, which as anyone working in the telecoms sector will know, is no mean feat.   

From ‘Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programmes’, ‘Local Full Fibre Networks’ and implementing the ‘Superfast Programme’, Justin has overseen a number of expansive projects over his two-year tenure at DCMS. 

Here, he shares his valuable insight into the fibre industry in the second instalment of ‘Delivering Digital’. If you missed the first one you can read it here. 

 

 

How does the tiered contractor system effect how the instructions are delivered to the fibre workers on the ground? Do complications ever arise from this? How are they minimised? 
 

It’s a complicated eco-system and the approach varied from one network operator to another. Some entirely use their own directly employed labour. Some entirely use sub-contractors. Some use a combination of both. We also see layers of sub-contracting where larger organisations themselves employ third party companies or gangs of resource on contract. 

“Feedback from industry was positive and highly supportive with a consensus that these targets are achievable.” 

How this is managed does vary significantly but best practise appears to include involving sub-contractors early on in the design process, walking routes together, having clearly defined work packages and having a robust and consistent quality assurance process.  

How does the government work with Openreach and other telecoms providers to ensure fair roll out of fibre across the country? (Connecting rural communities for example.) What is the DCMS role in managing and monitoring this? 

 We are still defining what the new UK Fibre Programme will look like in terms of a new State Aid decision and Procurement Approach. We have supplier and local authority engagement underway already.  

 

 

Meanwhile we are using the existing Superfast Programme as a State Aid vehicle to delivery full fibre. Of the 5.1m premises delivered by this programme 340,000 have been delivered with full fibre. On this programme we work with local authorities or devolved Governments to whom we provide grant funding. This is often then match funded with local authority funding or funding from other sources such as DEFRA or MHCLG. We in DCMS act as the assuring body firstly to ensure these projects deliver Value for Money and secondly we act as the National Competence Centre (NCC) for assuring State Aid Compliance against the 2012 and 2016 State Aid decisions that were granted to use from Brussels. The Local Authorities then run an open procurement and suppliers competitively bid into this. For example the R100 procurement running in Scotland currently has 3 bidders into what is a highly rural programme. 

“The change of government has brought with it a challenge to move at an accelerated pace.”

How do changes of leadership, government and other external influences such as Brexit affect the full fibre commitment? Is the Government target to build a full-fibre network by 2033 and have 15 million premises connected by 2025 realistic? 

The targets set out in the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review followed consultation with the market and also third party analysis of the speed of build of fibre in other countries around the world. Feedback from industry post publication was positive and highly supportive of these targets with consensus that they are achievable. 

The change of government has brought with it a challenge to move at an accelerated pace. The consensus from DCMS and industry is that it is indeed possible to accelerate the 2033 target but this would involve removal, or improvement of, many of the barriers to roll out some of which were described earlier. That review of what level of acceleration could be achieved is underway and the Government will publish new targets in due course. 

 

Huge thank you to Justin for giving us an insight into full fibre from the governments perspective. Checkout Justin’s LinkedIn to learn about some of the projects he’s overseen in his time as Programme Director. 

Do you have any thoughts about what Justin’s said? Let us know. Drop a note to hello@pickr.works.