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UPDATE Government Claims 90 Percent UK Superfast Broadband Cover

Thursday, Mar 10th, 2016 (9:50 am) - Score 1,728

Blink and you’ll miss it. Without any fanfare the Government’s Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, appears to have officially confirmed that 90% of the United Kingdom can now access a “superfast broadband” service, thanks partly to Phase 1 of their Broadband Delivery UK programme with BT.

Readers with a long enough memory may recall that the original BDUK target envisaged the first 90% goal as being achieved by the end of the previous Government’s parliament (around May 2015), but after a few administrative delays this was put back to the end of 2015 and then revised again to “by 2016” (the use of “by” in political speak usually means “end of”).

So admittedly it’s running a little behind the original aspiration, but that’s hardly surprising given that the first deployment phase had a lot of learning and new ground to cover before it could even get going. Equally it’s a huge build and in the grander scheme of Government project delays (just look at HS2) it’s actually made quite reasonable progress.

Aside from that we’ve long been expecting BDUK to achieve the original 90% target by spring 2016 and so in that sense yesterday’s remark from Ed Vaizey came as no surprise, except for the fact that it was made in passing and without any official press release or fanfare to accompany it.

Ed Vaizey MP said (Westminster Debate):

“There has been only one failure in the superfast broadband roll-out programme that I have supervised and that was in South Yorkshire, where we inherited a useless Labour contract [Digital Region] and had to write off £50 million of taxpayers’ money. Everything else has been an unadulterated success.

We now have 93% of the country able to receive fibre, 90% of the country able to get superfast speeds of 24 megabits and above, and 50% of the country able to get ultrafast broadband speeds of 100 megabits and above [ISPr Ed: The “ultrafast” figure is mostly thanks to Virgin Media’s commercial cable network].”

Just to be clear, we do expect the Government to make some PR capital out of this at some point. More to the point we still think they’re actually a smidgen shy of a nice round 90% (maybe that’s why the PR machine isn’t yet rolling into action), albeit perhaps not enough for it to be worth quibbling over.

Mind you there must be a caveat added to this, which is that such figures are only ever estimates of availability and the real-world experiences won’t always match up. Likewise that 90% will be an overall national (UK) figure, thanks largely to progress in the more populous England area. By comparison N.Ireland sits at around 80%, Scotland is on 84% and Wales has about 87%.

If we take Ed Vaizey at his word then then it means that Phase 1 of the BDUK project, which was supported by £530m in public funding from the Government (local authorities and BT were asked to match this), should now have put the new “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) connectivity within reach of an additional 4 million premises (homes and businesses) or thereabouts. Not bad considering that the main roll-out only really started in 2013, with most contracts getting under-way in 2014.

At this point it’s worth reminding readers that the first 70% or so of “superfast broadband” coverage was largely achieved via purely commercial investment, mostly thanks to BT and Virgin Media’s efforts. As such BDUK’s focus has been on the final 30% where the commercial operators have struggled to invest.

The next Phase 2 (Superfast Extension Programme) target, which is supported by £250m from BDUK + more funding from ISPs (not just BT this time) and public authorities, aims to close the gap further and hit 95-96% coverage by 2017/18. However we are still awaiting a firm strategy for closing the final 3-4% gap after that by 2020, which is somewhat dependent upon a new EU State Aid agreement (details here – expected by around May 2016).

Even after all is said and done then there will still be around 0.5-1% of the UK that cannot easily be served by a fixed line solution and unless there is a stronger commitment to solve that problem then they’re likely to be stuck with the Satellite subsidy (here). Mind you there might also be some future benefit from the 10Mbps USO (here), depending upon its approach.

PS – Just to be sure we did ask Ed Vaizey directly to confirm whether the 90% figure was for the UK and not merely England and he has confirmed that it is indeed for the UK.

UPDATE 3:15pm

We’ve had an official comment from BT.

Bill Murphy, BT’s Managing Director of NGA, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We delighted to hear the minister confirm this important milestone. Our engineers are making high-speed fibre broadband available to an extra 40,000 premises every week.

Co-operation between councils, government and BT is making a real difference and helping to keep the UK ahead of other large EU countries.

BT is investing more than any other company to increase broadband speeds and coverage across the country, and we’re determined to fill the gaps that still exist.”

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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