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Waiting Game Continues as Jeremy Hunt MP Updates UK Broadband Policy

Monday, August 20th, 2012 (3:21 pm) - Score 926

The government’s Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, has today said that he wants the UK to have not only the “best” but also now the “fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015” and to extend its coverage beyond the current 90% (population) target. So what’s new?

Sadly there’s nothing fundamentally new about today’s speech and it doesn’t represent a radical policy shift, although politicians do occasionally like to re-spin existing plans in order to make them sound sexier. In reality you won’t be getting superfast broadband any sooner or with any more certainty than you would have before, although there’s still some useful information to be found in his remarks.

At present the government wants 90% of UK people in “each local authority area” to be within reach of a superfast broadband (i.e. “loosely defined … as greater than 24Mbps,” said Hunt) service by 2015, which will be funded by a total of around £1bn in public subsidy (i.e. BBC money, digital switchover under-spend and match-funding from local governments). The private sector is also expected to at least match the level of state aid.

Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said:

In my very first speech as a Minister I said that I wanted us to have the “best” superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. In defining “best” you include factors like price and coverage as well as speed. But over the past two years it has become clear, as Usain Bolt wouldn’t hesitate to say, to be the best you need to be the fastest.

So I am today announcing an ambition to be not just the best, but specifically the fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015. Indeed we may already be there.”

According to Hunt, 43 out of 46 local authority areas have now had their related Local Broadband Plans (LBP) approved and “procurement for virtually all areas is well under way, with around one moving into formal procurement every week from October,” added Hunt. Interestingly Hunt also said that he expected “procurement to be completed across the whole country by next July“, which actually suggests a 6 month delay from the 3 month delay suggested in their previous update earlier this month (here).

In other words the vast majority of practical network building has so far centred more around paper work and bureaucracy than any physical development of new telecoms infrastructure, although this should change next year but that then leaves a little over 2 years to do the work itself. On top of that the European Commission (EC) has yet to rule on its competition concerns with the process. Europe is unhappy about BT appearing to have little tangible competition in the bidding process for most parts of the UK (among other things).

At this point Hunt began to focus on the future and started by reiterating how their £150m Urban Broadband Fund (UBF) will aim to bring speeds of 80-120Mbps along with universal high speed wifi to around 15% of the UK population that reside in some the country’s largest cities (here). Hunt then began to give the first hints of his post-2015 broadband policy.

Jeremy Hunt said:

Our plans do not stop here either. We are currently considering how to allocate the £300m available for broadband investment from the later years of the license fee. In particular we will look at whether we can tap into to this to allow those able to access superfast broadband to be even greater than our current 90% aspiration.”

Hunt also referenced the recent House of Lords Report, which criticised his strategy for being preoccupied with speed, not focusing on rural areas first and failing to foster a truly national network of fibre optic broadband services.

When the Lords Committee criticised me this summer for being preoccupied with speed, I plead guilty. But where their Lordships are wrong is to say my focus is on any particular speed: today’s superfast is tomorrow’s superslow … we must never fall into the trap of saying any speed is “enough.”“, said Hunt before doing a shaky comparison of FTTC vs FTTP services.

Jeremy Hunt added:

Whilst I am talking about the House of Lords report, let me address a further misunderstanding. They suggest that fibre to the cabinet [FTTC] is the sum of the government’s ambitions. They are wrong. Where fibre to the cabinet is the chosen solution it is most likely to be a temporary stepping stone to fibre to the home [FTTH] – indeed by 2016 fibre to the home will be available on demand to over two thirds of the population.

But the reason we are backing fibre to the cabinet as a potential medium-term solution is simple: the increase in speeds that it allows – 80 Mbps certainly but in certain cases up to 1 gigabit – will comfortably create Europe’s biggest and most profitable high speed broadband market. And in doing so we will create the conditions whereby if fibre to the home is still the best way to get the very highest speeds, private sector companies will invest to provide it.

Let’s look at the alternative: if the state were to build a fibre to the home network now, it would potentially cost more than £25 bn. It would also take the best part of a decade to achieve. We will get there far more cheaply – and far more quickly – by harnessing the entrepreneurialism of private sector broadband providers than by destroying their businesses from a mistaken belief that the state can do better.”

The FTTH being referenced above is actually BT’s FTTP-On-Demand service, which will become available on slower FTTC lines from Spring 2013. However this service is expected to be very expensive to install, targeted more towards business users, and would thus not be economically viable for most ordinary home users. But we’ll reserve judgement until BTOpenreach reveals its preliminary pricing in the not too distant future.

Similarly Hunt suggests that FTTC will “in certain cases” offer speeds of “up to 1 gigabit“, which is incorrect and once again appears to confuse the FTTP-On-Demand service with BT’s FTTC solution that most certainly cannot do 1Gbps without bonding an awful lot of lines together.

In closing Hunt said that he was “hopeful” of resolving Europe’s competition concerns with the BDUK process “this autumn“, which would allow public funding to be released to local authorities and their related LBP’s. The final UBF city funding and allocations should also be confirmed during September 2012 or later in the autumn.

Separately Hunt said that the government would be “removing barriers to deployment wherever we can“, such as through plans to relax the rules on overhead lines, new guidance for local councils on streetworks and microtrenching, the development of specifications for broadband in new buildings and an independent review by the Law Commission of the Electronic Communications Code.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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29 Responses
  1. Avatar Deduction02 says:

    quote”The government’s Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, has today said that he wants the UK to have not only the “best” but also now the “fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015”
    Poor deluded chap.

    quote”Where fibre to the cabinet is the chosen solution it is most likely to be a temporary stepping stone to fibre to the home [FTTH] – indeed by 2016 fibre to the home will be available on demand to over two thirds of the population.”
    Which nobody is gonna pay the install costs for.

    quote”But the reason we are backing fibre to the cabinet as a potential medium-term solution is simple: the increase in speeds that it allows – 80 Mbps certainly but in certain cases up to 1 gigabit”
    From the recent ofcom report on average it doesnt even deliver that 80Mb. One gigabit??? Who doped the water there?

    quote”we will create the conditions whereby if fibre to the home is still the best way to get the very highest speeds, private sector companies will invest to provide it.”
    3 years into the FTTC roll out this hasnt really happened yet.

    With this guy in charge its no wonder the funding and roll out is an utter mess. Wish him all the best with his fastest in Europe mission, can only assume he has no clue at all what some countries already have.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      The announcement smacks of someone who has spent far too much time on the golf course (or whatever) and who has suddenly popped into his office to receive a briefing on the progress of the BDUK project goals or lack thereof, and has adapted a BT press release to form a speech.

  2. Avatar Sheffield Owl says:

    Never mind rolling FTTC,what we should be doing is rolling Mr Hunt down the steps of Westminster and down to the jobcentre,he hasn’t a clue.!!!

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      Unlike the genius behind “Digital Region”? Over £100m of our money for < 1000 users! It makes BDUK look heroically cheap by comparison!

  3. Avatar nicknick says:

    Don’t worry this is Mr Hunt’s last utterance on the subject as he will be moved sideways in the coming reshuffle. He will be used as a scapegoat for the BDUK disaster, but the success of the Lord Coe Olympics will probably mean he won’t get a demotion. Don’t expect him to pop up in 2015 saying ‘look at my wonderful legacy’ though

  4. Avatar Chris Conder says:

    He’s swallowed it hook line and sinker, it could have been a BT spokesperson making that speech. I guess he’s between a rock and a hard spot, BT will back him all the way. They will cover his back when it finally becomes obvious the funding has gone and we still have a third of the country on substandard connections, and the whole job will be to do again properly once the next potful of money is made available… FTTC is a chokepoint not a pathway to a digital future.

    1. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      A choke point that should give decent speeds to the 90% of us within ~1km of a cabinet. FTTP is all very well but it’s expensive and slow to deploy. As an example, how many homes has B4RN connected to date, over what period and at what cost per home? IIRC FTTC is running at approx 1 million premises per quarter.

    2. Avatar Deduction02 says:

      Average of only 50 odd Mb currently from BTs 76Mb FTTC product to people and the speed as more sign up is declining according to the recent ofcom report…. Or to put that into perspective it runs on average ALMOST 30% slower than advertised rate LOL

      Chokepoint doesnt even begin to describe how rubbish it is. Fastest in Europe LMAO was he reading from a BT press release or is he just as stupid as them i wonder?

    3. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      Suggest you read up on the subject before commenting. If 90% of us had 50Mbps+ broadband we’d have easily the best service in the world – according to the (flawed) studies fom Akamai and others anyway. Far better than Japan, Korea etc.

    4. Avatar FibreFred says:

      If Fttc allows you Ftth in the future ( next year ) how is it a choke point ?

    5. Avatar DTMark says:

      Being within 1km of a fibre cabinet is a straw-man statistic.

      What matters is how long the ancient bit of copper or aluminium is to the cabinet the property is connected to and which metal it is.

      This property is within 1km of where the fibre cab would be and would be fairly unlikely to see superfast broadband with the dismal line quality. The place in Alton I looked at moving to is also well within 1km of a fibre cab and can’t even get a fibre service at all. Probably because it isn’t connected to that cab. Lies and statistics.

      I had a stab at guessing that if practically every cabinet in the country had a fibre twin, superfast broadband would penetrate to around 60% of premises. I also guessed that the average potential speed would be circa 20Mbps to 25Mbps.

      Interestingly the ThinkBT – sorry, I mean ThinkBroadband website – has a stab at guessing this too, probably without taking into account the differing gauges and metals, and comes up with a more flattering 70% with an average just shy of 25Mbps.

      Leaving a “final third” which was precisely what the BDUK project was aiming to resolve, a project which has failed miserably in all its objectives and which seems to have been completely abandoned.

    6. Avatar nicknick says:

      “If 90% of us had 50Mbps+ broadband we’d have easily the best service in the world” IF IF IF. We are not talking about today though are we? We are talking about an ‘ambition’ in 2015. By the time we get to 2015 the investment programmes already in place in Japan, Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, France etc etc will have produced a much better answer than we will have then. So yes if you bring that 2015 network forward to today then yes it would be the best in Europe, but in 2015 we will NOT have the best broadband in Europe.

    7. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @NickNick
      Actually Akamai suggests broadband speed in Korea, Japan slowing. Remember both have already made bg network investments, mainly FTTB, have not really delivered stellar results despite what some people think.

    8. Avatar nicknick says:

      What are you smoking?????? Only in your “BT Marketing” world would a YoY increase of 35% in Japan (compared to our 20% increase – to a measly 5.6M) be a ‘slowing’. You even commented on the Thinkbroadband thread on the Akamai numbers so you should know!!!!!! I no longer go to the Thinkbroadband site because of the prevelance of you BTites. Do us all a favour and stay over there and take your BT bias with you

    9. Avatar Tom says:

      I rarely read the tbb site due to petty arguments like this – it’s a shame that they have migrated over here now 🙁

  5. Avatar Bob2002 says:

    The government is willing to spend £17.4 billion on High Speed 2 which will knock off some travelling time between Birmingham and London for wealthy customers, but won’t invest, let’s say, £2.5 billion/year over a decade or so for a national FTTH network which would benefit everyone. Pathetic.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Agreed lots

    2. Avatar zemadeiran says:

      I second that!

    3. Avatar DTMark says:

      It’s a “straw man” argument anyway (would cost 25bn to build a State FTTH network). And I’m surprised it would be that cheap anyway.

      The State shouldn’t be building any networks as in fibres or connectivity. That isn’t the place for the State to go – to become an operator, or an ISP.

      What the State can do – and, only the State can do – is facilitate the laying of the ducting for multiple network operators.

      I wonder how much it costs to buy Jeremy Hunt. I suspect Rupert Murdoch could tell us.

    4. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @DTMark
      I doubt it but they probably know what sort of settlement to expect from libel though….

    5. Avatar DTMark says:

      I only implied something… did you infer that 😉

      Perhaps Jeremy Hunt was just tragically incompetent over that little debacle and the explanation really is that simple.

  6. Avatar dragoneast says:

    “. . . a national FTTH network which would benefit everyone” – really, literally?

    The trouble is we want it . . . and everything else too.

    What is about the internet and the brain, that they don’t mix?

    1. Avatar Bob2002 says:

      It would benefit more people than the small number of the relatively wealthy who’ll use HS2 … or don’t you understand the difference between a project that serves 60 million people and a train line used by a small fraction of that?

  7. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    HS2 is truly a humongous white elephant!

    Mr Hunt needs to speak to decent knowledgeable advisers and not cow tow to his friends at BT….

    The Tories are always 100% behind private enterprise so telling them to spend public money ON the public is like pulling chicken teeth.

    And so it continues….

  8. Avatar DTMark says:

    “So I am today announcing an ambition to be not just the best, but specifically the fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015”

    Great. When is someone going to make a start on a plan to achieve this then? All I’ve heard about so far is throwing lots of money at an old phone company to wire up some cabinets.

    1. Avatar Deduction02 says:

      Yeah its not gonna happen “ambition” big dreams, little substance.

    2. Avatar Somerset says:

      Have to start with a plan for a plan…

      Please explain ‘old phone company’.

  9. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

    How do you know if a politician is lying, “he starts talking”.
    We will be in a similar position in 2015 as we are today, the haves and the have nots. OK speed will have gone up, still the same old gripes about what you are all talking about today.
    A case of nothing much changes or same old same old.

    1. Avatar Somerset says:

      So the only solution for the UK is government funding for a 100% FTTP rollout.

      Discuss.

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