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Gov Report Suggests Designating UK Broadband as Essential Utility

Tuesday, Aug 24th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 2,792
big ben uk parliament

The UK Government’s Office for Science has published a new report into increasing the contribution of science and technology for the sustainability of the UK’s health and care system, which among other things advises that the Prime Minister should consider “designating broadband as an essential utility.” But that isn’t a magic fix.
The new report notes that establishing a robust and coherent data strategy is essential to some of its goals, but it also recognises that this would need to be supported by other measures. One of the focus areas involves empowering people to take control of their own care and data, which “more broadly” suggests “designating broadband as an essential utility to facilitate systems improvements (this links to CST advice on education and levelling up).”

Most consumers today already consider broadband ISP connectivity to be an essential service, and so the idea of designating it as an “essential utility” (e.g. like water or electricity) is one that does tend to resonate. In theory, services that attain such a designation tend to be held to higher regulatory standards, such as requiring network operators to guarantee access (i.e. a statutory right or duty to install, inspect, maintain, repair or replace apparatus), provide support during outages and making it harder to disconnect users.

However, turning broadband into a utility service might be more thorns than roses, and it would not magically guarantee either universal availability or performance. For example, gas providers are also considered to be statutory undertakers, yet under 10% of homes are still not connected to the main gas grid. Likewise, it’s unlikely to make broadband any cheaper, particularly as the competitive market has already delivered fairly affordable products.

Traditional utilities often also flow from a single monopoly infrastructure supply (this may vary a bit between certain services and regions), with services delivered over the top. By comparison, broadband now flows from a diverse range of different / competitive networks and technologies, all with different levels of performance and complex structures (Summary of UK Full Fibre Builds).

Put another way, replicating the essential utility structure in the broadband market might risk harming that competition and thus undermining the huge flow of private investment that is currently being made, which plays a huge role in expanding the reach of gigabit-capable broadband and Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology. Suffice to say, the Government have been actively trying to encourage such investment and competition, not hinder it, which does now seem to be paying off.

Nevertheless, there’s always some merit in exploring such ideas further, particularly as it might still have some merit in certain parts of the country (e.g. less competitive areas where attracting private investment is more difficult). But we do need to be careful about viewing such changes as a general fix for the market, when often the impact might risk creating too many new obstacles.

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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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27 Responses
  1. Avatar photo TrueFibre says:

    You know what this means a broadband tax

    1. Avatar photo Optimist says:

      There already are broadband taxes.
      Business rates levied on the basis of premises passed rather than premises served.
      VAT on consumers’ bills.

    2. Avatar photo TrueFibre says:

      They are talks of a broadband Levi

  2. Avatar photo Ray Woodward says:

    Well then they should add all areas to the list for FTTP roll out then, given that the only people who can offer it here are Virgin (nobody else even has plans for it around here)…

    1. Avatar photo The Facts says:

      Who are ‘they’?

    2. Avatar photo Rich says:

      Water is pretty essential, but while we’ve got close to full coverage of mains water, we haven’t got anything like full coverage of mains sewerage.

      A good chunk of the country have no gas.

      Even if it’s essential it doesn’t mean you can live 30 miles from the nearest human and demand everyone else subsidise your utilities.

    3. Avatar photo CarlT says:

      If you’ve FTTP you’re in a way better position than most, Ray. You certainly don’t need taxpayer subsidy to bring a second network in play.

  3. Avatar photo AWJ says:

    Whilst I’m sure no one will agree with me on this, but it’s such a waste of resources to be building all these networks that essentially do the same thing.

    As with everything else that’s a monopoly, the state should own the infrastructure and private business sells the packages for consumers. There should really only be one network coming into my house like there is one electricity supply and one gas supply. I will shortly have virgin, openreach and cityfibre access. What a waste of time and money, I can only use one of them!

    Just build a single FTTP network.

    1. Avatar photo Rich says:

      It’s only a monopoly if we follow your plan of a single network.

      Personally I’m not in favour of that, the different networks have vastly different architectures, e.g. BT have much larger splits on their GPON than Cityfibre.

      Broadband is also a shared medium, if we had wholly separate networks running on GPON, this would cause issues.

      We don’t have a single national network for other utilities, the different independent networks (most of which are privately owned) just don’t overlap much.

    2. Avatar photo 125us says:

      Presumably then there should only be one car manufacturer you can buy cars from? After all, you can’t buy them all at once.

      Broadband deployment has picked up pace and is super cheap precisely because of competition, not despite it. No-one is asking you to pay for the networks you don’t subscribe to. If investors are making a return, no-one’s money is being wasted.

    3. Avatar photo AWJ says:

      Well production of cars is governed by the market isn’t it? It’s not the same thing.

      There may well be networks which are never ever used – that’s a waste of resources isn’t it? What do you suggest? I have 3 water mains, 5 gas mains and 2 electricity supplies coming to my house as well?

      Competition should be in services provided not infrastructure laid.

    4. Avatar photo AWJ says:

      The other thing is that the government is already subsidising the rollout of FTTP hugely to give people some sort of equality in access. They might as well fund and own the whole thing and then make a return on that investment by selling access to it. A return for the taxpayer over decades to come.

      The market and capitalism isn’t always the answer.

    5. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      @AWJ. So far the vast.. majority of that FTTP rollout is coming from private investment. Project Gigabit has so far only released £1.2bn and they’re only focused on the final 20% of hardest to reach premises. Taking a sledgehammer to the entire industry and thus asking the taxpayer to fund tens of billions more (instead of private firms), does not seem like a wise or even necessary ‘solution’. What you’d get is protracted court battles, less competition, massively delayed rollouts and a lot of unemployment as a big chunk of the industry supply chain might no longer exist.

      The thing is, had you wanted to do that, it should have been done over a decade ago. Starting it right as we’re seeing a massive and rapid commercial build of FTTP is crazy.

    6. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      “Broadband deployment has picked up pace and is super cheap precisely because of competition” – maybe in commercially attractive areas.
      In some areas we are still waiting for any superfast broadband at all – and when it finally gets here (hopefully next year) the cheapest superfast business broadband package will be unaffordable for small businesses at £100+pm.

    7. Avatar photo - says:

      @AnotherTim Who are you getting whose cheapest small business package is £100?

    8. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      Gigaclear – £85.50+VAT (=£102.60) pm for 100Mbps symmetric

    9. Avatar photo CarlT says:

      Even at that price, Tim, doesn’t look like Gigaclear will be making money any time soon.

      Rich – unsure why you think CityFibre’s GPON split is dramatically different from Openreach? As far as I know they’re both about the same? CityFibre have FEX close enough to premises that they could run with 64:1 or 128:1 if the kit supported it as the fibre runs aren’t very long however I believe they run with about 32:1 as Openreach do.

      Openreach actually target 30:1 just FYI.

    10. Avatar photo AnotherTim says:

      “Even at that price, Tim, doesn’t look like Gigaclear will be making money any time soon.”
      Well, not from me or any of the other local small businesses, as it doesn’t make financial sense at that price. And since I need a business connection for customer WiFi, I’ll be forced to continue with 4G for that, and so I’m unlikely to go for a residential FTTP either.
      Ironically, 6 or 7 years ago when superfast was due to be deployed here I had a budget of £300pm for superfast broadband. But they delayed and delayed, and now I’m probably not willing to spend more than £50pm.

    11. Avatar photo Mark says:

      If we has just one network then everyone is relying on a single point of failure.

      FTTP is still a shared network and it’s better to be able to move from one to another if you have issues.

      Take your BT line for example of you have issues with that then no matter which ISP you use the same issue will follow you about and you are relying on the network provider to fix it.

      With multiple you can just change to a different network if you have issues and trouble getting it fixed.

  4. Avatar photo Sam says:

    Lets face it, Broadband should be a utility. You cant even claim benefits without it now..

    1. Avatar photo Mike says:

      Or we could just get rid of benefits and people could work for a living…

    2. Avatar photo Connor says:

      @Mike because every single person on benefits is just there to not work, that is such a short-sighted view of the world.

      I was out of work for 6 months and relied on benefits to continue looking for work which required me having Internet access to even apply.

      I fully agree with @Sam where if you require Internet access for basic government functions and to get yourself back into work then yes broadband is essential.

    3. Avatar photo CarlT says:

      Indeed, Mike. While we’re at it lets make people pay for everything they consume that was previously provided via the state. Should need a household income of 35-40 grand. You’re good with that, right?

    4. Avatar photo 125us says:

      Most people on benefits are in work Mike. It seems like you’re just trolling.

    5. Avatar photo GaryH says:

      Hey if we’re going as far a CarlIT I assume sarcatically suggested, Lets just ditch the ‘Society’ concept and Only pay for what we individually use or need, I’m sure that’ll work out just fine.

      Easy to target ‘benefit scroungers’ But consider this, roughly 60% of our Households aren’t Net contributors to the state, Calrs income numbers are about spot on circa 40k or you’re actually receiving more than you put in.

    6. Avatar photo Jonathan says:

      Last time I looked into it, it was lot more than £40k to be a net contributor on average. If your single and otherwise healthy it’s about right. If you have a couple of kids in school it is way out.

  5. Avatar photo TrueFibre says:

    To tell the truth am so glad there making broadband connections a essential utility. Because through out this hole pandemic it’s giving me power to talk to my family and friends. Having Zoom Meetings using Skype Facebook messenger Microsoft Teams and FaceTime.

Comments are closed

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