The chief executive of the communications regulator in the United Kingdom has underlined the importance of developing next generation high-speed broadband networks. Ed Richards said that Ofcom favoured a regulatory environment that allows and encourages operators to make risky investments for the potential benefit of their shareholders.

Speaking at a conference convened by industry body Intellect, he said there had been a step change in the level of interest and engagement on next generation access.

“Super-fast broadband is crucial to the UK’s future,” he said. “These next generation networks form part of the critical infrastructure of the country’s economy and will be central to the way we live our lives in the future.”

“Super-fast next generation broadband will come to change our perception of communications radically. Alongside mobile broadband, it will, in time, have a similar impact on our society and economy as first generation of broadband.”

“We are very clear that if operators are going to make investments in new infrastructure,” he said, “then they need to know that the regulatory framework will allow them to make and keep a rate of return that is commensurate with the risks they are taking.”

He said they needed a time horizon that gives them a degree of assurance for a realistic period in the future, on the understanding that “the regulator will not suddenly change the rules of the game to reduce the returns just as the rewards for the risk start to flow in.”

Such a signal has been seen as essential for significant investment in new next generation networks.

“We want investment in a competitive environment,” said the head of Ofcom. “It is encouraging that cable is now talking about seriously rolling out their next generation high bandwidth product at the end of the summer. The emerging success and rapid take-up of mobile broadband will provide a further spur to the fixed line operators to upgrade to next generation high bandwidth products to differentiate themselves competitively to consumers.”

He said that he had written to the leading chief executives across the communications sector “to initiate a concerted dialogue on the key issues”. Ofcom will host the first of a services of workshops to resolve areas of uncertainty as soon as possible.

Ofcom aims to set out the details of the regulatory framework for super-fast broadband in September, when a government report is due to be published.