BT Group and its broadband infrastructure rivals are in secret talks with the government about a timetable for switching off copper broadband services that would echo the end of the analogue TV signal in 2012.
Daily Week News has learnt that BT is spearheading an initiative which has been under discussion with other companies, regulators and ministers for a number of weeks.
Under the plans, which have been developed by BT’s chief executive, Philip Jansen, full-fibre broadband would replace existing copper networks on a region-by-region basis over the next six years.
A final switch-off date of 2027 is being earmarked for customers using the remaining copper lines as part of the negotiations between the various parties.
Consumers and businesses would be given two years in each area of the country to move their service to a new full-fibre provider, with the industry confident it can hit Boris Johnson’s target of universal fast broadband across Britain by 2025.
According to sources who have been briefed on the companies’ proposals, broadband lines would be terminated on a staggered basis once the new networks capable of much faster broadband speeds are fully built in each region.
The infrastructure providers would be obliged to commit to building full-fibre networks in rural areas, where delivery is more complex, as well as in towns and cities.
One insider said on Wednesday evening that a six-point plan had been drawn up by BT
The plan to deliver universal access to gigabyte broadband speeds could cost more than £30bn
The development has been privately welcomed by ministers, with Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary, due to meet industry bosses to discuss the plans on Thursday.
Sources said that Mr Jansen would be among those attending the meeting, along with Clive Shelley, Openreach’s chief executive, TalkTalk chief executive Tristia Harrison and Simon Holden, chief operating officer of CityFibre.
Sharon White, the departing chief executive of industry regulator Ofcom, is also due to attend along with other Whitehall and sector figures.
A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “This Government wants to deliver world-class, gigabit-capable digital infrastructure across the country and will announce further details on how we will achieve this as soon as possible.
“We are investing over £650m in full fibre broadband until the end of 2021 and are committed to creating the right opportunities for investment as we speed up the roll-out of this technology.”
Mr Johnson’s commitment to seeing full-fibre broadband installed across the UK by 2025 is one of the most significant he has made on domestic policy since entering Downing Street.
His chief business adviser, Andrew Griffith, is an experienced media and telecoms industry executive, having been involved in the acquisition of broadband provider Easynet in 2006 during his career at what was then called BSkyB, the owner of Daily Week News.
The BT-led six-point blueprint for full-fibre rollout is also focused on securing sufficient public subsidy to ensure the supply of new services to all of Britain’s rural communities.
In total, estimates suggest the cost of the universal coverage plan could be higher than £30bn.
The industry is also pressing Ofcom to make regulatory compromises in order to guarantee greater certainty for investors in companies involved in super-fast broadband provision.
Sources said the companies were also keen to see a relaxation of planning regulations, as well as assurances about access to the roughly 35,000 engineers who will be required to deliver the full rollout programme by 2025.
A switch-off date that would revive memories of the analogue-to-digital TV switchover that took place between 2008 and 2012 would also require an enormous publicity campaign costing tens of millions of pounds – if not more.
The industry would inevitably press the government to subsidise part of that cost.
Mr Johnson and other senior politicians have made it clear that fast broadband will be a key plank of improving Britain’s poor productivity record.
Currently, fewer than 10% of homes have access to full-fibre broadband, according to Ofcom.
Mr Jansen has signalled that BT may need to cut its dividend in order to fund the huge investment required to accelerate full-fibre broadband provision.
Other providers are making efforts to muscle into the market in a significant way, including CityFibre, which this week turned to the former National Grid chief executive Steve Holliday as its new chairman
The company, which is owned by Goldman Sachs-backed West Street Infrastructure Partners and Antin Infrastructure Partners, has committed to providing a new generation of wholesale full-fibre broadband to more than five million homes and businesses by 2025.
Daily Week News revealed recently that CityFibre is among a small number of bidders battling to take control of FibreNation, a TalkTalk-owned venture which wants to build fibre connections to three million UK homes.
CityFibre’s interest underlines the land-grab taking place for share of a market given added impetus by Mr Johnson’s broadband pledge.
Like other new competitors, CityFibre has been set up to seize market share from Openreach, the BT Group subsidiary which now operates on a more arms-length basis from its owner.
Liberty Global, the owner of Virgin Media, is in the process of establishing a new joint venture in order to compete in a more expansive way in the broadband market.
A number of smaller players, including Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, have also been set up.
BT and the other companies contacted by Daily Week News declined to comment.