It took clear, determined and forceful regulatory action for the continental broadband rollout leaders, Spain and Portugal, to change the dynamics of their markets. Some long established practices had to be jettisoned, ‘regulatory certainty’ had to be softened, and siren voices ignored.
So Boris Johnson’s broadband ‘I can promise it earlier than you can’ competition with Jeremy Hunt needs to be matched with real action if it is to change anything other than internal politics. Some fibre operators have firmly pointed this out, and rightly so. There’s plenty of financial interest in this asset class if the regulators can support it.
But that’s a big "if". The big legal enabler of rollout, the Electronic Communications Code, has only recently been "updated" for the first time in decades, in a protracted and painful process that often generated more heat than light.
And much of this is also going to need vision in the competition regulation field, as operators will need to cooperate and combine, working with third parties and possibly sharing infrastructure where the economics don’t stack up for solo rollout.
That will also need much more imaginative frequency markets, where the MNOs don’t hold all the cards (and frequencies), so that 5G can fill in areas where full fibre is too costly - although the new breed of fibre alt nets is showing that those areas might be fewer than others may think. Again shared access is going to be crucial.
There’s a lot to think about, but the time available just got a lot shorter.
"Nationwide full fibre coverage is not a can that can be kicked down the road," the letter concludes. "Work needs to start now, and 100% fibre coverage requires a 100% commitment from government." The letter has been signed by the chair of the Internet Services Providers Association, the interim chief executive of the Federation of Communication Services and the chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association.