U.K. Government Scrubs Fiber Broadband Targets With Brexit Reset

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government erased its fiber broadband rollout targets after both contenders vying to lead the ruling Conservative Party pledged to overwrite the plans.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport removed every reference to a goal to make ultra-fast networks available to 15 million premises by 2025, and nationwide by 2033, in its “statement of strategic priorities” published Thursday. The targets, pledged by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond a year ago, had appeared in a draft of the strategy in February.

The government has been in flux since Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to step down having failed to get her Brexit agreement with the European Union through Parliament. Digital Minister Margot James resigned on Thursday after she voted against the government on Brexit.

Boris Johnson, the favorite to replace May as Tory leader and prime minister when results of a party vote are announced on Tuesday, has promised he’d deliver full-fiber connections nationwide by 2025. The pledge has been met with skepticism by industry executives, who pointed to the difficulty in getting approvals and laborers to dig up roads quickly enough. His rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has said he’d aim for full-fiber coverage by 2027.

The two candidates have been wooing the membership of a political organization which is most dominant in the U.K.’s rural -- and less connected -- areas. Britain currently has full-fiber coverage in only 7% of the country.

The U.K. telecom industry is being urged to build more fiber-optic broadband, as it’s faster and more reliable than copper cables, but government policy helps dictate their willingness to comply. Dominant carrier BT Group Plc has recently raised the prospect of scrapping its dividend to accelerate its fiber-optic rollout from previous targets.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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