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DEFRA UK Report Calls for 10Mbps Universal Broadband Commitment

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 (9:30 am) - Score 734

The Commons Select Committee for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has today published the results of their inquiry into the roll-out of faster broadband Internet access to rural areas, which among other things calls for the current Universal Service Commitment (USC) speed of at least 2Mbps (Megabits) to be increased to 10Mbps.

At present the coalition Government’s national Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme is aiming to make fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) speeds available to 95% of the population by 2017 (rising to 99% by 2018 when you include mobile/wireless services) and 100% are being promised a minimum download speed (USC) of at least 2Mbps.

Most of this deployment is being conducted alongside BT and the use of their ‘up to’ 80Mbps capable Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) technology, which the committee said was “an efficient, cost-effective method of improving broadband in areas where premises are located close to their local street cabinet“.

But the committee also warned that FTTC can leave those who already live a long distance from their local street cabinet to suffer slow speeds, which relates to the common problem with longer runs of copper cable becoming increasing susceptible to interference over distance, and called for more alternatives to be considered. It should be said that BT are already examining various alternatives (e.g. FTTrN) and have also been deploying 330Mbps capable FTTP in some remote areas.

The committee were also concerned by BT’s indication that the current 2017 target could be delayed to 2018, which is supported by evidence from some of the recent phase 2 contract signings (although we won’t get the full picture until all of the contracts are agreed). On top of that they called for the Government to set out at clear plan for connecting the final 5% to superfast speeds.

Anne McIntosh MP, Committee Chair, said:

People living in the hard-to-reach 5% of premises need the same access as the rest to online and digital services. There is a risk in the current approach that improving service for those who already have it will leave even further behind the rural farms, businesses and homes who have little or none.

We are concerned that the current broadband rollout targets are based on inaccurate assumptions that universal basic broadband coverage has largely been achieved when the reality is that many rural communities are still struggling with no access, or slow broadband speeds.”

The report goes on to make a number of interesting recommendations, such as the provision of subsidised access (voucher scheme) to Satellite broadband for those who are unable to access fixed-line broadband or broadband of basic speeds.

However the report equally warns that Satellitewill not fill all the gaps” and “the technology itself can suffer from delay and reliability issues,” which is one of the reasons why we view it as a stop-gap measure since it will never be able to fully compete with an affordable and flexible low latency fixed line connection. We’ve summarised some of the other highlights and recommendations below.

DEFRA Rural Broadband Report – Highlights & Recommendations

* We were concerned to hear BT tell us that the present target of 95% of premises receiving superfast broadband by 2017 may slip. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) must make it clear that the target date must be met. A target date for when the last 5% of premises will obtain access to superfast broadband coverage must be published.

* For many services, 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) is already an outdated figure, and 10 Mbps is increasingly recommended as a suitable USC for standard provision. The Government must reassess whether the 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment remains a valid one.

* Councils need access to timely data from BT that allows them accurately to monitor take-up of broadband. Equally, they need access to timely data from BT about planned broadband coverage and speed. It has been argued that distributing information about broadband coverage on a postcode by postcode basis can be misleading. An ‘enabled’ postcode does not necessarily mean that each premise within the postcode is enabled.

* We are surprised that no assessment of the first phase of contracts with BT has been published before the phase two and three contracts are signed. Phase two contracts being signed must include provisions to ensure that local councils and BT keep local communities up-to-date with planned broadband coverage and speed. Information about rollout should be delivered on a premise-by-premise basis as opposed to by postcode.

* The [Rural Payments Agency] must have a contingency plan in case the new online-only [Common Agricultural Policy] CAP application system proves difficult to use for farmers with limited broadband capability. The new software has not yet been tested by the number of users who will access the site in May, and some of those doing so will be using online services for the first time. The contingency plan should be able to respond to the software not functioning at the level required or with users not being able effectively to access the software.

* The allocation of funding between urban and rural areas is greatly unbalanced. Those who live in urban areas have on average higher percentage coverage of superfast broadband, coupled with access to voucher schemes which can subsidise access. Rural areas are lagging behind. Those in poorly connected areas are sometimes asked to pay twice: once through their taxes for the Government-funded Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme and potentially again from their own pockets if the BDUK programme does not reach them.

* The [£10m] Innovation Fund [this is testing different broadband technologies in rural areas] is the first step to providing superfast coverage to the last 5%. The results of the pilot test must be published and the most suitable schemes rolled out nationally.

Naturally the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has become one of the first to welcome today’s report and support its calls for a faster USC and Satellite vouchers. The CLA President, Henry Robinson, said: “We are pleased MPs have listened carefully to the evidence we set out to them. The Committee is right to conclude that a minimum speed of two Megabits per second (Mbps) is now too slow a speed for modern requirements. It is also right to press the Government to review this, but it is a shame the report stopped short of calling for a Universal Service Obligation. It is clear that rural areas have fallen behind.”

The full report doesn’t contain many surprises and indeed Ofcom has also spent the past couple of years suggesting that 8-10Mbps would make a reasonable USC, although we are concerned that Satellite is increasingly being viewed as a fix for the final 5%, which overlooks the technologies many restrictions; not least in terms of high latency and capacity (small data allowances and throttling).

Otherwise most of what the report recommends are either already being considered or have been already raised by prior studies and inquiry’s.

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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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15 Responses
  1. Avatar DTMark says:

    1. The final 5% is not necessarily rural. Even after the current BDUK programme is complete my suspicion is that we’ll end up with about 65% to 75% with superfast (30+) speeds, rural will remain under-served, and there will be swathes of housing estates up and down the country in urban areas with basically no broadband to speak of.

    2. 10Mbps is not enough bearing in mind construction times. I’d go with at least 30 Meg symmetric. That’s no real challenge for a broadband network anyway and the government pretends to be serious about the project.

    3. When we get to (2) we’ll see the folly of the cheap option trying to adapt a phone network and overall, the project may well cost far more than it would have done had private investment been brought to bear.

  2. Avatar hmmm says:

    good luck as you will need it with openreach cowboys on the job lmfao

    1. Avatar fastman2 says:

      hhhm you have 17 already and still not happy — if ou not happ you go FOD or Fund an new cabinet !!!!

  3. Avatar gerarda says:

    The consideration of satellite is not helped by BT’s spin doctor pulling the wool over the committee’s eyes in relation to coverage. For example his answer to Q39 conveniently fudges a question on the 2mbps USC with a EU statement that the 144kbps target had been achieved. Taking a couple of million sub 2mb lines out of the equation does make it easier to fill the gap with satellite.

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      BBC Watchdog, some time in a few years from now:

      “Here we are in [insert name of city]. On one side of the road, all the houses can get superfast broadband. On the other side of the road, they all have two satellite dishes – one for Sky and the other for broadband. Years ago the government gave BT a billion pounds of taxpayer’s money and even had TV adverts promoting the project encouraging people to take up the service. Where did that money go?”

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      “On the other side of the road, they all have two satellite dishes – one for Sky and the other for broadband. Years ago the government gave BT a billion pounds of taxpayer’s money and even had TV adverts promoting the project encouraging people to take up the service. Where did that money go?”

      Everywhere else but that road? 🙂

      Satellite will have to be used in some places its a given… its not like BT have rolled out to half the country with FTTC/P stopped and then said, the other half will have to do with Satellite

      Its 5%

    3. Avatar gerarda says:

      The 5% is a pure guess, and even if right there is no chance that one and a half million premises could get superfast speeds from satellite

    4. Avatar MikeW says:

      Q38 and Q39 don’t look to be fudged. The topic in both is coverage of basic broadband, ie getting 2Mbps. The answer is clear – 98.5% will get this speed.

      There’s no fudging, no mention of the EU, and no mention of 144 Kbps.

      He is also clear that these lines have not yet been cast aside to satellite, but approaches are still being looked at. We know, for instance, that no plans have been published that make use of GEA-ADSL2+.

      The only mention of satellite was in pointing out that these 1.5% can already get basic broadband speeds via satellite. That is true, and enough capacity exists in the sky to meet this 1.5% at basic speed rates.

      As for the 5% currently unfunded for superfast – it still isn’t a case of superfast fixed line vs satellite alone. There are still other solutions, including wireless in multiple forms.

    5. Avatar DTMark says:

      So to clarify, after spending a considerable amount of money, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a situation where someone in, say, Edinburgh, in a built up city area, has satellite as their only broadband option?

      I’d say that was mismanagement of public funds of the highest order and a damning indictment of how the project has been managed.

    6. Avatar gerarda says:


      paragraph 32 “This has been sufficient for the
      European Commissioner to declare that the objective of at least 2 Mbps broadband being available for all has been accomplished”

      You can read question 39 for yourself

      Digital agenda definition:

      Digital Agenda Scoreboard 2014
      Electronic communications market indicators: Definitions, methodology and footnotes on Member State data
      Broadband indicators
      Broadband connection: a connection enabling higher than 144 Kbit/s download speed.

      So a fudge.

    7. Avatar gerarda says:


      In terms of the 1.5%, no evidence was given to support that figure, and given that Ofcom do not know but make a ridiculously underestimated guess based on a farcical assumption, even the number of premises where there is no adsl availability I suspect is it probably equally understated.

    8. Avatar MikeW says:

      No evidence for the 1.5%, but equally no evidence for your 5% or 1.5 million; as you say a total guess. I know who I think is closer.

      On the EU thing … You bring in the part about the EU and the reference to the 144Kbps (and the subsequent DA definition), and you make it sound like the EU reference was used as a fudge. I see nothing of the sort. The answer to Q38 and Q39 was entirely about basic broadband and 2Mbps – both question and answer were clear, including the reference to being able to get 2Mbps using satellite. The EU reference within Q39 is almost like an addendum, but is certainly not used as a justification for the rest of the answer.

      Note that while the EU use a definition of “basic broadband” of 144Kbps, we in the UK don’t use that definition – and both question and answer were extremely clear in using our 2Mbps definition.

      Further, while the EU has a definition of basic broadband of 144Kbps, their announcement of satellite coverage being available to the whole EU is not limited to that speed definition. Clearly the announcement calls it both “Fast internet” and “High speed bi-directional internet” as well as referring to packages with 20Mbps speeds.


      Frankly, the oral evidence could be no clearer. The only person adding fudge here is you.

    9. Avatar gerarda says:


      You and I are obviously reading this in different ways. What is clear however is that no one knows(or is admitting) how many premises cannot support 2mpbs ADSL now let after the BDUK rollout is finished, and what the satellite capacity is make up the difference if this is what BT intend to do.

      The chair of the committee has quite rightly queried the assumptions on coverage. Let us hope that triggers Ofcom and BDUK into doing a proper assessment

  4. Avatar fastman2 says:

    i look forward the day where watchdog raise development that has no choice and holiding its residents ro ranson over broadband pricing and choice

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      We’re in a rural area and have access to good services from EE and Three, and adequate services from Vodafone. There’s also the old GPO phone network if you wanted some sort of slow narrowband service as a backup. Are we just exceptionally lucky to have a choice of three potential telecommunications companies and a phone company?

      But then we don’t have that access to FTTP that the developments you’re alluding to, do.

      And if you move somewhere in this country which leaves you at the mercy of only one set of infrastructure, you needed to think more carefully before you moved.

      Nobody serious who depends on the internet would move somewhere with only BT or only Virgin tech present, would they?

      And there was nothing to stop Openreach deploying to those sites anyway. If they negotiated poorly and lost the deal maybe they need to look again at their negotiation skills.

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