Finding the True NGA Definition
It should be clear by now that central government, either through a lack of technical understanding or political and economic willpower, doesn't want to tie itself down to a definition. However that hasn't stopped a mountain of other organisations, many of which are government bodies, trying to do it. Sadly nearly all of them contradict each other.
The UK Governments Minister for Communication, Culture and the Creative Industries (Ed Vaizey)
Let's get the ball rolling with what Ed Vaizey thinks the service should be, since he should know.
Ed Vaizey Statement
"Super fast broadband means broadband of sufficient speed and quality to deliver the services that will lead to Britain having the best broadband network in Europe. The technology used to deliver this could be fixed or wireless but will represent a significant upgrade on today's fixed and wireless networks."
Hardly illuminating, although Vaizey does talk in bold terms about a "a significant upgrade on today's fixed and wireless networks" and aims for the UK to deliver "the best broadband network in Europe". This is a somewhat open ended description. Now contrast this with what everybody else says.
The national UK communications regulator should, in theory, be one of the best places to start and indeed they have appeared to adopt a more common sense and reasonably well researched approach to solving this most irritating of problems. So much so that Ofcom's March 2010 'Review of the wholesale local access market' defined it as follows.
"Super-fast broadband is generally taken to mean broadband products that provide a maximum download speed that is greater than 24 Mbit/s. This threshold is commonly considered to be the maximum speed that can be supported on current generation (copper-based) networks.
Of course, the actual speed experienced by consumers depends on factors such as distance from the local exchanges. To achieve higher speeds than 24 Mbit/s, CPs would need to use alternative technology, based on providing a connection over optical fibre some or all of the way to the customer."
Advocates of true 100Mb+ Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) services, which delivers a fibre optic cable directly to your door, might suddenly be found spinning in their graves. However Ofcom does offer one of the most acceptable definitions by marking a clear dividing line between what is possible under the old copper line based infrastructure (e.g. up to 24Mbps ADSL2+ tech) and new fibre optic broadband services. It's not perfect but it works, sort of.
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA)
The VOA is an executive agency of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and retains a huge responsibility for setting taxes on various fibre optic lines and cable broadband networks. As such it needs to know what it's taxing, yet the VOA appears to have its own unique definition of NGA services.
"NGA technology is understood to mean the delivery of download speeds in excess of 20 Mbits/s."
Existing ADSL2+ broadband technology, which runs over the old copper based telephone lines, can reach a maximum of up to 20-24Mbps. Admittedly nobody will never achieve a speed of 24Mbps via ADSL2+ but some do get just over 20Mbps. The VOA doesn't strictly mention a specific type of line (e.g. fibre optic) like Ofcom does, although its wider taxation is focused on that style of technology.This suggests that somebody who achieves more than 20Mbps (even from BONDING two+ slower lines together) could consider themselves to have an NGA connection, even though they'd still be using old/existing infrastructure. Naturally we contacted the VOA to investigate the source of this definition, which turned out to be a somewhat obscure government Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee Fourth Report posted during February 2010 (under the previous government).