UK government scraps planning regulations for superfast broadband

The UK government hopes to speed progress to a superfast broadband future by allowing operators to roll out their networks without gaining the planning approval normally required by authorities.

Under new rules announced by Maria Miller, who replaced Jeremy Hunt as culture secretary in a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, operators will be able to install street cabinets and other broadband equipment without first seeking approval from local councils.

The government is also examining ways in which the deployment of mobile broadband infrastructure could be similarly streamlined.

“Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country’s future—to kick start economic growth and create jobs,” said Miller in a statement. “We are putting in the essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery.”

Predictably, the new rules have won support from UK broadband operators. In a statement published on the website of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the government body responsible for broadband development, cable operator Virgin Media (Hook, UK) said: “Efforts to cut through the red tape that hampers the rollout of better broadband are welcome but overdue. We’re fully behind the government’s ambition to ensure Britain has the best broadband in Europe and steps like this will help support Virgin Media’s ongoing private investment.”

Nevertheless, the loosening of regulation has angered some outside the telecoms industry, including the Local Government Association, which believes red tape has been swept away with flagrant disregard for residents’ rights.

“You cannot take away the rights of people to have a say on six-foot high humming junction boxes outside their windows and gardens or poles and wires festooning their streets,” said Mike Jones, the chairman of the Local Government Association’s Environment and Housing Board.

“Councils are as committed as government to improving internet services for residents and business to help drive forward growth in their areas. However, the answer isn’t riding roughshod over planning protections and it’s vital government doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture in a race for short-term gain,” he said.

The UK government’s broadband plan has been dogged by controversy ever since its publication.

Under the proposals, authorities have pledged to spend £530 million ($850 million) on the rollout of broadband infrastructure to the so-called “final third”—the proportion of UK homes and businesses that is not expected to be of commercial interest to private-sector broadband companies.

Some critics say the scheme is short on ambition, while others have complained about a lack of competition in the tender for infrastructure contracts.

Only BT (London, UK) and Fujitsu (Tokyo, Japan) have been selected from a list of nine bidders for public-sector contracts, and Fujitsu has already withdrawn from projects in Cumbria, in the north of England, and Wales.

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