London is lagging way behind rival cities in its drive for full-fibre broadband, leading pockets of the city languishing in data “not-spots”.
Areas across London, including parts of Canary Wharf, North Greenwich and Rotherhithe suffer from low data speeds through copper wire just as international competitors are bringing their fibre online.
Critics say the capital is suffering from a decade of delays caused by the infrastructure monopoly BT Openreach dragging its heels and claiming for years that copper wire would do – even as people’s data consumption doubled every year.
Big business has bypassed Openreach’s inadequate network and can afford to set up its own private leased lines, leaving a two-tier system across the capital with small businesses and residents stuck in the slow lane.
'That's a weakness'
City Fibre director Mark Collins said: “When we consider the implications of exiting Europe, if we become constrained on our ability for data compared with the other country then that’s a weakness.”
At a recent fibre conference, a league table showed countries such as Latvia and Russia at 35%-45% connectivity. Tim Stranack, of Community Fibre said: “Only three countries don’t appear on the league table because they have less than one per cent – Ireland, Greece and the UK. And it’s going to be a disaster if we don’t wake up to the fact that full fibre is needed.”
In the past year the Government has switched policy in favour of full fibre and shifted away from Openreach’s “copper is good enough” strategy but it will require a decade of investment to make up for lost time – just as Britain is attempting to lure businesses here post-Brexit.
'That's how bad it is'
Cllr Jonathan Glanz, broadband champion for Westminster, told a London Assembly investigation into connectivity about life in Soho: “You’ve got Sony or Warner Bros who have got their huge connectivity for their operations across the world, then you’ve got small creative industries in who still find it quicker to download something on to a DVD and walk it round to somebody else than send it across their current connections. That’s how bad it is.
“People come from cities around the world and find it incredible that they can’t do what they can do in Seoul or Singapore or Sydney or New York and just have their connection put in and will allow them to do everything they need to do and which will have sufficient capacity for the things we know are coming down the line.”
'We are where we are'
Companies including Sky and TalkTalk have called for Openreach to be broken away from BT and the monopoly has responded by giving the unit more independence after an ultimatum from Ofcom. As a result Openreach has given better access to its ducts and poles to rivals.
New Openreach chair Mike McTighe admitted that insufficient money had been invested in the UK’s broadband network by BT. He said: “Should that have been done a few years ago? Of course. But we are where we are.”
BT is still resisting plans for a full separation of Openreach saying it “would lead to less investment, not more”.
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