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Digital Britain Report – Universal UK Broadband Plans

Posted: 29th Jan, 2009 By: MarkJ
The government has today confirmed plans for a digital Universal Service Commitment (USO), which aims to make broadband capable of "up to" 2Mbps available to everybody in the country by 2012. The report found that UK take up of first generation broadband has grown faster than almost all the other major economies, yet it is now at risk of falling behind.

Presently the existing costs of our out-dated universal service obligations (USO) fall firmly on BT and KCom, both of which are required to make sure that every UK household has access to a telephone line capable of supporting a 28.8Kbps dialup connection for narrowband style Internet access.

Typically the vast majority (99% population coverage) of UK households now have access to at least basic broadband connectivity, which the report breaks down as follows. This table is based off BT's current active copper line capabilities using ADSL MAX (up to 8Mbps) technology:

UK Broadband Speed Population Coverage to 2Mbps

The table highlights how faster broadband speeds remain off-limits to many people, but also predicts that BT's 21CN/ADSL2+ (up to 24Mbps) services could extend the reach of slower broadband to nearly 100%. By 2012 perhaps one third of households not so served today will be within 2Mbps coverage:

Digital Britain Report:

But if by 2012 we have a society where 50% of the population has very high speed broadband, 40% has first generation broadband but little prospect of market-led upgrade to next generation broadband, and up to 10% of homes are still in not-spots, not-a-lot spots or not-at-all good spots, then the gulf in access and connectivity will appear starker than it is today. We believe we need to do more to drive connectivity, capacity and take-up.

Happily Lord Carters report doesn't take the easy option by recommending that 512Kbps become the new universal minimum. Instead its initial assessment, subject to detailed analysis, is that a 2Mbps universal service commitment could, with careful policy design, strike the right balance.

The costs for doing this would also be shared more widely between a range of communications providers. The contribution could be financial or in kind (e.g. if mobile operators continued to build their networks towards near-universal coverage, facilitated by the acquisition of additional wireless radio spectrum).

It's understood that public money from end consumers might also come into play, although few details about that are offered. Similarly the 2Mbps pledge wouldn't strictly have to come from land-line services, with wireless (Wi-F) and Mobile Broadband solutions being touted too.

Finally the plan calls for a special taskforce of experts to be setup, which would be headed by a "public service champion" (i.e. somebody who knows what they're doing) and drive the Government’s work on digital inclusion. The BBC would also play a role, using its expertise in marketing, cross-promotion and provision of content to drive interest in taking up broadband.
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