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Culture Secretary Says UK Needs Broadband as Good as South Korea

Monday, September 29th, 2014 (1:41 pm) - Score 934
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The Government’s Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid, has today told the annual Conservative Party Conference that having better broadband Internet connectivity than the largest EU states is “never enough” and he wants the United Kingdom to “compete with the likes of Japan and South Korea“, where ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) networks are common.

At present the current coalition Government is working to ensure that 95% of the population can access a fixed line “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) connection by 2017 (mostly via BT’s assistance), with the expectation being that additional funding to help cover the final 5% could be confirmed before the end of this year (here).

So far progress has been good, not to mention affordable (important given the on-going climate of austerity), but not everybody is happy with BT’s choice of a hybrid fibre and copper line technology (FTTC). This is due to a number of reasons, not least with regards to its variable performance over distance.

Activists attending last week’s Labour Party Conference also fired a warning shot across the Government’s bow by calling for “nationwide access to 1Gbps broadband in homes, businesses and public buildings, with 10Gbps services for tech-clusters, as early as possible in the next parliament” (here). Crucially this is not yet official Labour policy, despite what the BBC may have suggested in its related reporting. Indeed many have questioned the practical feasibility and costs of doing this within the given 2020 timescale.

Perhaps coming as a response to all this Sajid Javid ended up telling today’s conference that he at least has an aspiration to go much further by putting the UK alongside the likes of South Korea and Japan, where state-funded deployments of true Gigabit (1000Mbps+) capable pure fibre optic networks are much more common.

Sajid Javid, UK Culture Secretary, said:

Our ambitious broadband programme is reaching every corner of our country. We know that the internet superhighway is every bit as important as our motorways and our railways.

So we’re investing almost £1 billion of central Government money to take superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the country by 2017.

Since 2010, access to Superfast Broadband has doubled and we already have the best broadband coverage of any major European nation.

But beating France and Germany is never enough. We need to compete with the likes of Japan and South Korea. So yes, we’re making progress, but there’s still more to do.”

On top of that Mr Javid also referenced the on-going Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) by saying the Government were working hard at “improving mobile phone coverage, especially in rural areas“, before admitting that there are still “vast swathes of our countryside where you can’t get a decent phone signal” and adding that’s “just not good enough“.

Mr Javid has so far also tried and failed to encourage Mobile Network Operators (MNO) to tackle the remaining gaps in coverage through a controversial National Network Roaming proposal (here). Unsurprisingly Javid then ended his comments on this aspect by saying that “our mobile operators must do more“.

So what are we to make of all this? In absence of any actual substance or firm commitments, beyond what already exists, then we’d say not a lot. It’s the usual pre-2015 General Election political spin, which we’ve come to expect from all the main parties and as ever you should always take anything politicians say with a big pinch of salt. We’re unlikely to get a real idea until the parties publish their official election manifestos next year and even then that pinch of salt may still come in handy.

Meanwhile we can’t escape the feeling that politicians may be eyeing BT’s recent G.fast developments with interest (here), perhaps spying another opportunity to gain some extra political capital by promising the theoretical capability of 1000Mbps. But in reality G.fast would struggle to make such performance available, although 200-400Mbps might be more plausible and would still be very impressive if it can be delivered to the vast majority.

In any case it’s sometimes easy to forget that, not so long ago, the chances of a Government or its rivals even so much as talking about improving the United Kingdom’s broadband and mobile infrastructure seemed about as likely to happen as HG Wells style time-travel. How things have changed and we should at least be grateful for that and the improvements that have already been made, although bigger commitments are always welcome.

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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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38 Responses
  1. Avatar Gerarda

    At last a Government minister who recognises where the real future competition is, not one who thinks, or has been told by BT, that basket case European economies are the ones to benchmark against.

    • Avatar No Clue

      More like realises an election is coming and got to turn up the dial to max on the mission creep machine.

    • Avatar timeless

      indeed, what he said was pretty much a no-brainer something most of us have thought for a while.. however on the lead up to the election we will have plenty of promises given to us but like Camerons promise of “no top down reorganisation of the NHS” l dont believe anything the Conservatives say because they will promise anything in order to retain power.

    • Avatar No Clue

      You can not trust what any of them will say. They care about one thing and that is thereself.

  2. Avatar Sledgehammer

    The U.K. doesn’t do what Japan and South Korea do, we have to stick with copper even with FTTC the copper still sits there.
    Those lucky enough to have B4RN, Gigaclear or Hyperoptic will be fine. I will have to become the oldest man in the U.K. before I see a 1Gbps FTTH connection in my location.

  3. Avatar DTMark

    Mr. Javid – your desires and aspirations are absolutely correct.

    However, in the meantime, your government is busy pouring money at BT who will not get us anywhere near a fibre-optic network of the capability or future-proofing of what South Korea has.

    There is absolutely nothing strategic whatsoever about the BDUK scheme which is a short to medium term exercise with throw-away technologies. Absolutely nothing that has been done with cabinets gets us any nearer to affordable ubiquitous fibre optic connectivity or future-proofing.

    BT might well have convinced you that copper based tech can be ‘as good as’ fibre, but you’ve been sold the most monumental pup.

    After you’ve poured all this money into BT chasing the short term gain, and having not only slapped any possible competition in the face and told investors to keep out of broadband, what do you think is going to happen to the price BT will command for laying fibre?

    What you’re doing now completely kills the desires you aspire to in the longer term.

    Do carry on.

  4. Avatar No Clue

    Personally i agree with the most important line in the news item “It’s the usual pre-2015 General Election political spin”. Labour have kicked off the ball with their delusions on broadband so now the conservatives also have.

    Nowadays its easier to assume most election talk that gets thrown out there in debate you can pretty much ignore. Even to a degree assume the opposite will happen. Its like watching pathetic children squabble over a toy, the toy being a far fetched idea that both off them want but will never give.

  5. Avatar PhilB

    1Gbps…….I would be over the moon with 3mbps.

  6. Avatar hmmm

    REF compete with the likes of Japan and South Korea“, where ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) networks are common

    MAY WE COULD IF WE DID NOT HAVE TO FIGHT OTHER PEOPLES WARS

    and spend the money on internet instead

  7. Avatar adslmax

    Both parties is LIED! It all about pre-election victory and nothing was done!

  8. Avatar FTTH

    Ha ha ha ha…
    Can’t change track now without exposing the FTTC exercise for what it was.

    As for competing with South Korea, bring it on!….

    He does realize South Korea has a defined National Strategy and spend Billions. Enough to build Many HS2’s

  9. There is plenty he can go at,
    FTTC has proved at least £1.5bn cheaper than BSG predicted.
    Planning fibre provision at bew sites and refurbs where passives are shared,
    LA free to invest in duct for Open access where BT has not maintained its own duct,
    PIA will be easy to develop now the state will have invested more cash in total than BT.
    Tighten the cost recovery regime for fixed line so non-functional lines get replaced with FTTP.

    Rural UK will be better served than rural S.Korea, but fixing legacy assets in cities needs some smart work on market definitions.

    BT Group bechaviour on rural still needs tackling through changes in their underatkings so the appropriate level of cost transparency becomes available. It just needs a few MPs to call a 10 minute bill or early day motion. I hope they do it before UKIP get hold of it,

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Please explain ‘non-functional lines get replaced with FTTP.’

    • Avatar DTMark

      “PIA will be easy to develop now the state will have invested more cash in total than BT”

      I recall a line from the EU guidance document which said something to the effect that everyone/anyone (as in any provider) is required to have open access to any of the assets paid for with public money which would seem to apply here.

      However the project hasn’t – so far as I can see – paid for any assets on the “D” side which would be the useful bit here, for instance, any other provider could take a fibre link and run a local loop with fibre to the premises giving the customer a choice of BT (or a reseller) over copper, or that provider over fibre, thus introducing the necessary element of competition to nudge BT into running FTTH.

      The other non-starter is that the provision only lasts for seven years, after which time, presumably, BT could tell the other provider to remove their equipment.

      If memory serves.. been a while since I skimmed through that huge document.

    • The facts – within the FLAM cost recovery the definition for an analogue line inlcudes cost recovery for FTTP where an ATA is used for PST. In the context of a 25 year transition activity it does not seen insurmountable to suggest that copper loops over xxxx metres are non-functional and should be replaced with a FTTP based service which is functional over 40km (straight line).

      I am thinking(do not laugh) that out of £87 pa x 25 years cost recovery, it should bot be too much of an ask to plan £500 of that to replace copper where ut not suitable for the purpose intended.

    • @DT Mark – the NAO reported hefty future proofing costs on the D-side for FTTP and FOD – some £350m out of the £1.2bn – take propotions from Table 11 Page 33 and multiple out using 36% of total cost where a cabinet minus tie cabling equals = £28.9k each. (This is not the subsidy)

      This gets odd as BT has effectively removed FOD when they changed the pricing to £100 a month for wholesale, so the money has been contracted but we do not know what its is being spent upon.

    • Avatar GNewton

      TheFacts: What exactly do you not understand here? Or is it just one of the many senseless questions here?

      BTW.: Have you ever done your homework, to answer some of your questions you posted a few months ago?

    • Avatar TheFacts

      I was trying to understand the practical aspects of replacing ‘non functional’ lines. We have copper lines within cables from exchange to cabinet, and the same from cabinet to DP. Then smaller cables from DP to premises.

      What are the stages of the work?

    • Avatar No Clue

      The stages of work to get to 1Gbps or Korea like performance which it seems the Conslurpative and Laborious parties are making idle mentions about first involves removing that slow as molasses copper. Not that you will comprehend this you prefer to spend a few billion more on more pointless copper boltons.

    • Avatar DTMark

      “What are the stages of the work?”

      Running a new local fibre loop round the premises and connecting it to some backhaul.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Would you be using existing duct from BT, Colt, VM etc. or installing new?

    • Avatar GNewton

      “Would you be using existing duct from BT, Colt, VM etc. or installing new?”

      This question is non relevant to the discussion here. Inn fact, you find the answer to this in your own local community by doing some research, asking the council and various telecom companies.

    • Avatar No Clue

      No idea why he is no going on about whos duct should be used, if the government want what they are talking about (IE 1Gbps) for everyone they would just throw more money at the issue, im sure any of his mentioned especially BT as proven already will be happy to take a another round of hand outs. Its moot anyway because its politician speak or like him hot air and no substance.

  10. @DT Mark there is a natty bit in the guidelines which defines enhanced PIA where the intervention is more than £50k on a individual path.

    I am alos pointing to a mood shift where TalkTalk, Sky, Voda are all making plain their demand for PIA something Ofcom could not point to in 2012.

    Furthermore, the comapative contribution of state v BT actual was not apparent. £2.5bn commercial has become closer to £1.3bn, £1bn for rural has become a self certified £300-350m. Every time it is reported a BT project director has to ring BT centre for help in not informing rural users what they should be getting there will less reason to refuse new measures.

    • Avatar adslmax

      FTTC is rubbish because it still run by copper line, still run by stupid DLM to lower your speed, increasing latency and stupid crosstalk!

      FTTC is too cheap and BT want your speed slow as a snail!

    • Avatar DTMark

      I get the points that you make, however, I don’t see whether it’s possible to establish whether BT is performing to contract or not without having a look at those contracts in full – what was required and by when at what cost, by each local authority separately – surely, those contracts override everything and each one is potentially unique?

      BT, so far as I can see, is not required to inform any end-users, but the local authority is. Apparently. BDUK says so, though it has no will to enforce.

      Can be absolutely certain that local authorities more used to dealing with road closures and shuffling various benefit pots about are fully qualified to oversee technical projects of this nature in terms of contracting, due diligence, establishment of independent testing methodologies and ensuring that the criteria have been met..?

    • @DTMark the contracts follow a format under the BT UK framework and all are subject to the same state aid conditions – SA 336671.
      To what extent LA ate ticking BDUK proess boxes and to what extent BT costs are being challlenegd is unknown. NAO pointed to average subsidies using milestone payments of £46k per cab/path which included USC payments.

      We have just seen the Black County announced where for the first time the subsidy looks related to cost c £15k but these numbers need checking.

      But your right BDUK are the also the nominated state aid competence centre so those defending the inflated milestoone payemnts per premise passed to NAO and PAC are the same as those approving the state aid whether it is rural or overbuilding Virginmedia.

    • Avatar DTMark

      Would this be the same competence centre which oversaw and rubber-stamped all the contracts with confidentiality agreements, who then demanded to know why LAs claimed confidentiality agreements meant that they could not disclose coverage facilitating fill-in and alternate suppliers in areas not to be covered whilst stating a goal of a USC for everyone?

      Personally, I liked your idea..

      “LA free to invest in duct for Open access where BT has not maintained its own duct”

      .. this was the way to go from the start to minimise taxpayer investment and deliver something future-proof with competition. Pertinent to this article, and longer term desires, I think that, other than nationalising BT, this will remain the only way to go.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      What is meant by duct that is not maintained, where necessary it is repaired.

    • Avatar GNewton

      “What is meant by duct that is not maintained, where necessary it is repaired.”

      Are you really so ignorant? Have you ever spoken to BT engineers lately, and asked them how it used to be 10 or 20 years ago, as opposed to today, when it comes to preventive duct maintenance?

      In fact, a little bit of Google research can answer many of your questions, too.

      BTW.: Have you done your homework, and looked up the answers to some of your questions you asked months ago?

    • Avatar No Clue

      For someone that thinks he knows a lot he has to ask a lot 😉

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Duct is repaired when blockages are found, as in the BDUK rollout. No reasons why an LA would install duct.

    • @The facts – you right to pose the questions so thank you. BT collects circa £2.2bn pa to maintain local access network defined around PST – see FLAM cost recovery, – where expediency will lead to temporary fixes, but where in negotiating cost recovery fees the costs of maintaining duct and poles are included. For instance cost of drop wires assumes they are replaced over 10 years. Clearly this does not happen but there is line of cost recovery for it.
      Much of the controversary to come is that BT commercial capital investment of £1.3bn (50% at least in capitalised labout) (not £2.5bn) was not incremental capital but came from what was forecasted to be spent anyway. I have been unable to find £400m pa incremental capital in BT regulated accounts for NGA which you would expect to be fully referenced during 2010-2013. You can see some allocations but not much in the way of incremental new capital compared with previous years.
      So in the context of an increased Ministerial ambition, he is perfectly entitled to demand more and expect more from the regulator in any market reviews. The public monies of £1.2bn cash (100% cash) for rural ought to provide huge leverage. For 3 years this equals the full cost of employing 10,000 engineers at £40k each.

    • Avatar Gadget

      40k/annum fully allocated cost probably works out about £20k/annum for the engineer – and then you have the cost of the staff on your books in the future unless you decide to employ contractors in which case you’d also be paying more than £40k/annum.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Installation of cabinets and duct is carried out by contractors. How does that fit in?

    • Avatar No Clue

      Seeing as you have no information on costs of ducts spent in the financial year that cost fits in no where unless you can demonstrate the figures rather than just guess them.

  11. Avatar Nicholas Polydor

    “It’s the usual pre-2015 General Election political spin, which we’ve come to expect from all the main parties and as ever you should always take anything politicians say with a big pinch of salt. We’re unlikely to get a real idea until the parties publish their official election manifestos next year and even then that pinch of salt may still come in handy.”

    A shovelful of salt on both counts, I’d say 😉

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