The Governement has called for views on the future of the copper telephone network in a new digital strategy paper, which was commissioned by the digital minister Ed Vaizey (pictured), and Lord Deighton, commercial secretary to the Treasury.
In its digital communications infrastructure strategy paper, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport wrote, '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'.
This may need to take into account how best to encourage consumers to switch to non-copper based broadband services prior to this, the department added.
Existing copper networks are privately-owned assets, mostly owned by BT.
'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 went on.
However, the government would need to be sure that switching off the copper networks would not leave consumers without the availability of communications services, including access to the emergency services, and also that any other critical systems could be migrated to non-copper
The setting of a date would also need 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.
The ministry also asked how copper-access networks might evolve over time alongside other access technologies. It asked if there is a role for policymakers in helping manage any transition from copper to other networks.
The consultation will run to October 1.