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Former BT CTO Tells Inquiry the UK Needs £15bn to do Broadband Properly

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 (8:16 am) - Score 819

The former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of BT, Dr Peter Cochrane, has told a Lords Select Committee Inquiry into the UK governments superfast broadband strategy that the country would need to invest “at least £15bn” if it wanted to upgrade the national telecoms infrastructure properly and deliver a truly fibre optic (e.g. FTTH) service to everybody.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications Inquiry, which is being chaired by Lord Inglewood (Conservative), was launched last month to examine the current strategy. At present the coalition government wants 90% of people in the UK to be within reach of a superfast broadband (24Mbps+) service by 2015 and for us to have “the best superfast broadband network in Europe” (scored on more than just speed).

But Cochrane, now an independent consultant, suggested that the country’s current plans were “Super slow. It’s a candle, while the rest of the world is using the light bulb,” he said.

Dr Peter Cochrane said (The Guardian):

In terms of broadband, the UK is at the back of the pack. We’re beat by almost every other European country and Asia leaves us for dust. The great decline in our relative global position has saddened me over the years and we need to invest at least £15bn to redress this now.”

At present the government plans an investment of under £1bn (£530m core funding + £100m Urban Broadband Fund and possibly £300m from the BBC after 2015) into fixed line broadband ISP connectivity (not counting EU money and existing Private Sector projects, such as BT’s £2.5bn rollout), which is to be matched by local authorities and then the private sector.

But Cochrane envisages his proposal of £15bn as being able to deliver 100Mbps+ fibre optic broadband speeds to almost everybody in the country, which is something that national telecoms operators may have to play catch-up with in the future anyway. The inquiry itself notes that “consumer demand for bandwidth is growing by around 60% a year” and expects connection speeds of 1Gbps (Gigabits per second) to “be needed” by 2020.

Cochrane also wants to see the market made more competitive through better regulation (e.g. encouraging truly unbundled fibre optic lines) and greater support for alternative network operators (ISP), which many view as being shunned by current government policy that appears to favour BT. In reality this inquiry, which is largely chaired by pro-government peers, isn’t likely to change the current strategy but it might influence the post-2015 policy that has yet to be set in stone.

Lords Select Committee (Communications) – Superfast Broadband Inquiry
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees…

Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Avatar DTMark says:

    It really is more simple than that. In most other industries or forms of endeavour, markets raise standards.

    For some bizarre reason we seem to believe that an industry with no market at all in half the country will make progress when even the most cursory examination of history and motives of all the players shows that this is the biggest barrier to the development of any national broadband network (let alone superfast broadband)

  2. Avatar dragoneast says:

    I think “markets” are the great illusion. Sure it appears to work for groceries: so who gives you the superior quality baked beans? Someone has to be prepared to pay. Government will, and can, only meet a small part of the bill. That’s the Treasury’s clever game. Investors want a return and they’re in an international market with better returns elsewhere. Private companies don’t exist for charitable reasons, donating to the public good like a nineteenth century philanthropist.

    So all that’s left is the consumer. I think the whole thing is a softening up exercise to “persuade” consumers to pay significantly more. There’s this modern attitude that people can’t bear the truth – it has to be sugar-coated with deceit and hidden truths. See what’s already happened/happening with energy and transport: hook the consumer with low prices, and then slowly spring the truth on them: investment needs money which comes not from competition but from the consumer; anyone looked at their gas or electricity bills, rail fares or petrol costs lately, and wait for what happens with aviation and road-tolling. And anyone guess who will pay for new railways, not the Government I predict. Am I all wrong?

  3. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    I have admired Dr Peter Cochrane for a while now.

    His opinions on how we should move forward are always grounded and forthright.

    Australia has stepped up to the challenge of providing a future proof network so why can’t the UK?

    Yes, we have a larger population but our land mass is much smaller and easier to cover. Once we have fttc finished for everyone in the country, everyone will then have the option of a fiber from the cabinet to their home.

    Openreach can easily run 1000gbps+ over each strand of fiber to a cabinet. Need more bandwidth? use several strands! A fiber cable contains many strands, so we are looking at several thousand gbps to and from a cabinet.

    How many households are connected to a single cabinet?

    How many houses on a typical street?

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