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Analyst Slams UK Superfast Broadband Target as Irrelevant and Not Achievable

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 (8:51 am) - Score 521

Tim Johnson, a telecoms analyst for Point Topic, has called the UK government’s target for having the “best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015” both “not relevant to Britain’s needs” and “not achievable“. Johnson instead called for the new Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, to replaced it with a more “intelligent” goal.

At present the government claims to be investing around £1bn through its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office, which aims to make superfast broadband (25Mbps+) services available to 90% of UK people by 2015; meanwhile the last 10% only have a commitment for internet download speeds of at least 2Mbps.

The basis by which the government chooses to define “best” is not merely a matter of connection speed, with other aspects playing an equally important part (e.g. market competition, ecommerce and service affordability etc.). Naturally politically motivated targets are also open to having their goalposts shifted or quietly re-shaped. The vagueness that surrounds the government’s own target surely leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

Johnson suggests that the government would be better off adjusting its target to compare against the “Big Four” of major European countries (e.g. France, Germany, Italy and Spain), which he claimed would make for a “more useful to benchmark” because “Britain’s broadband infrastructure compares quite well with the other members of the Big Four” (easier goal?). It would still allegedly be a “significant challenge” to beat the likes of Germany.

Tim Johnson told the Westminster eForum (Broadband Britain Seminar):

The existing goal of ‘having the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015’ is not achievable as stated. Worse than that, it’s not relevant to Britain’s needs and should be replaced by more intelligent targets which address Britain’s real broadband weaknesses.

We do need a massive programme of investment in providing homes and businesses with good quality internet access, and getting people to use it. That way we will get a real return in terms of economic growth, far more than if we are just chasing after speed records.”

Johnson suggests that the country should instead target three big gaps in British broadband, such as the lack of faster connectivity in the final 10-20% of approximately 3 million UK rural homes and businesses where sub-2Mbps speeds remain the norm. He also called for new measures to ensure that broadband services can support video streaming properly or home working. Finally he called for the government to tackle the social divide where 7 million homes are still without “fixed line internet access“.

In terms of the social divide it’s worth remembering that significant investment has already gone into attempting to tackle this problem and the gap is beginning to narrow. At the same time not everybody wants a “fixed line” internet service (mobile devices are also being used) and many others still have problems with affording it.

Meanwhile the government’s former Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, echoed some of Johnson’s remarks in August 2012 when he called for the UK to have not only the “best” but also the “fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015” (note the use of “major“, which Ed Vaizey MP clarified to include “France, Germany, Italy and Spain“). It all sounds very familiar (here).

Ultimately we’d be surprised if today’s debate had any real impact on the government’s current policy to 2015, especially with most of the related Local Broadband Plan’s (LBP) now being heavily involved in the tender and contract award process (EC delays not withstanding). But the post-2015 to 2020 plan, which doesn’t yet exist outside of Europe’s wider target for 100% to have access to 30Mbps+ speeds by 2020, is potentially still open for constructive consideration.

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris Conder says:

    Altnets. And fibre, moral and optic.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      I fear that sadly the signal BDUK has sent to any private investors who might have been willing to invest in UK broadband is “put your wallet back in your pocket”.

      And still the Government continues with this “fibre tax”.

    2. Avatar Somerset says:

      Please provide details of business plan and funding required for an altnet solution across the UK.

    3. Avatar DTMark says:

      Did you miss my earlier posts 😉

      I don’t have time to type out another essay at the moment (hurrahs all round) but I have previously indicated how I would personally go about it at a high level were I put in a position to do so.

      The fundamental failing of the BDUK approach was to begin with an “appearance of the fourth kind”, and to presume to see something which was never there to begin with – a competitive market, or indeed any market at all.

      Therein lies both the reason for the problem, and the solution.

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