Review of ATI Regulations should encourage greater collaboration in water and sewerage sector

In June 2020, the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Warman MP, announced that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) would be reviewing the Access to Infrastructure Regulations (ATI Regulations), in part due to a recognition of the vital role telecommunications and digital connectivity has played in providing a ‘lifeline for people across the UK’ during national crisis.

In doing so, the UK government called for telcos and utilities organisations alike to provide responses to seven questions based around the ATI regulations, which have been in place since July 2016.

As a leading player in the evolution of shared asset development and more environmentally sustainable network infrastructure solutions, this is a subject which warrants significant attention and is of great importance to us at SSE Enterprise Telecoms, especially given our investment in the roll-out of high-capacity fibre through the sewer system beneath central London.

The review was also considered by the Technical User Group (TUG), which includes a number of Water and Sewerage Companies (WaSCs), assembled by SSE Enterprise Telecoms in January 2019 with the objective of developing a set of agreed standards for the evolution of shared asset development.

Both SSE Enterprise Telecoms and the TUG submitted responses to the questions outlined by the DCMS in the review of the ATI regulations.

As a non-commercial entity, the aim of the TUG response was to provide a technical perspective on the ways in which technology has changed since the ATI Regulations were developed. A key point is that new technologies being developed by SSE Enterprise Telecoms in collaboration with its technical partners have now made it possible for fibre optic cable to be deployed throughout much of the sewer network – contrary to the position in 2016 when consultation for the ATI Regulations took place.

While SSE Enterprise Telecoms suggest that the ATI Regulations are fit for purpose and require no fundamental alterations, we wholeheartedly support the view of the TUG, and are actively working with other solutionists to develop the technology for the installation, maintenance and removal of fibre optic cable within waste water systems. As well as being an environmentally friendly method to rapidly expand much needed telecoms infrastructure, SSE Enterprise Telecoms also sees mutual benefit for water company customers. Innovation such as this presents the potential for WaSCs to convert their infrastructure into smart waste water systems, providing them with the means to detect a range of operational challenges, such as leakage and flooding.

Therefore, our response further recommends that greater collaboration and incentivisation be encouraged as part of the review of the ATI regulations. Thinking specifically about the evolution of smart infrastructure and shared asset development, we would support the establishment of a joint sector operating group, which comprises representatives from both WaSCs and telcos, and which is based around a multi-stakeholder governance model. Greater collaboration with and between regulators such as Ofcom and Ofwat would also be considered beneficial.

Take a look at our publication, Cross-sector water and waste water asset sharing: A review of the Access to Infrastructure Regulations policy paper, which features excerpts from the response submitted to DCMS by the TUG.

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