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Copper telecoms networks could be 'switched off', says government

Evolution in the way communications are being accessed and delivered in the UK could result in existing copper wire networks being switched off, the UK government has said.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that switching off copper networks could incentivise telecoms operators to invest in other communication technologies.

"As the coverage and level of service available on non-copper networks increases the government is likely at some point to need to consider with operators and the regulator whether switching off copper networks is desirable from a commercial and a policy objective," DCMS said in a consultation on a new digital communications infrastructure strategy (68-page / 1.08MB PDF) for the UK. "This may need to take into account how best to encourage consumers to switch to non-copper based broadband services prior to this."

"The benefit of switching off copper networks is that this may further incentivise investment by operators to increase coverage of non-copper networks, and also act as a spur to replace last mile copper networks, or allow substitution with mobile or fixed wireless services. It should be noted that existing copper networks are privately owned assets," it said.

DCMS said that any decision to switch off copper networks would only be taken if the government could be sure that doing so would not leave consumers without access to communication services, particularly the emergency services, and that other "critical systems", such as those used for "monitoring and reporting on other utilities networks" had been switched onto non-copper networks instead.

It said that any 'switch off' date would have to be "sufficiently far in the future that it would not act as a disincentive to current planned investments, and would minimise the cost of stranding any existing investments in the copper network, including where investment has been made in LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) exchanges".

The government said that a digital communications infrastructure strategy is required to ensure the needs of businesses and consumers are met and that the UK can compete globally.

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