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UPD Broadband Delivery UK Event Delays 2Mbps Internet Speed for all Until 2015

Posted: 15th Jul, 2010 By: MarkJ
fibre optic cableThe Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the delivery vehicle for government broadband policies, today held a crucial industry event to discuss future "super-fast" internet access services. It also revealed that the target for bringing a minimum broadband speed of 2Mbps within reach of everybody by 2012 had been DELAYED to 2015.

In fairness this does not come as a huge surprise. We are already well into 2010 and the process designed to free up radio spectrum for wider coverage of faster Mobile Broadband services, a key part of the original 2Mbps Universal Service Commitment (USC), isn't likely to be completed for another year or two.

UK Secretary of State for Culture, the Olympics Media and Sport (DCMS), Jeremy Hunt, said:

"Last month, I announced that we were supporting a universal service level of 2 Meg as the very minimum that should be available.

I have looked at the provision the Government had made to achieve this by 2012. And I’m afraid that I am not convinced that there is sufficient funding in place.

So, while we will keep working towards that date, we have set ourselves a more realistic target of achieving universal 2 Mbps access within the lifetime of this Parliament."

For those asleep at the back of the class, the "lifetime of this Parliament" goes up to 2015. It is no coincidence that this mirrors the government's recent pledge of making the UK into the fastest broadband country in Europe by 2015. A cynic might suggest that this is a covert way of killing off the USC in favour of a greater concentration on superfast fibre optic roll-outs.

uk broadband notspots 2010
The "new" political environment also means a different approach, which in turn equals fresh delays (democracy is slow). Crucially the government wants to give the private sector more room to expand first, thus saving the public purse; although they have found around £200-300m to spend from 2012 onwards. A drop in the ocean, if you will.

Earlier today BT UK, which is already spending £2.5bn of its own money rolling out 40-100Mbps fibre optic broadband to 66-67% of the country, claimed that it would take an extra £2bn of public money to put UK broadband top of the class. That figure is of course from BT, which is most likely assuming itself as the most viable provider of a solution.

According to analysts at Point Topic UK, current USC policy is focused on the fact that relatively few homes and businesses – about 2 million, 7% of the total – are unable to get connection speeds of at least 2Mbps at present. This is of course based more on the reach of specific technology, excluding Satellite services, than real-world performance (i.e. real performance is often a lot slower).

Tim Johnson, Chief Analyst at Point Topic, said:

"Unfortunately, the 2 million premises are not in clearly defined areas which are easily reached. In typical marginal broadband areas, many homes can get 2Mbps but many others cannot. The only way to reach the have-nots is to engineer a service upgrade for the whole area.

Point Topic estimates that the areas which will need to be upgraded in this way cover over 5 million homes and businesses, or about 18% of all the premises in the UK."

Obviously if you're going to spend money upgrading a whole area then it might make more sense to put new super-fast fibre optic broadband lines down than to deploy a quick-fix for old infrastructure.

Speaking of money, Hunt also pointed to the economic benefits of a faster broadband network in his speech. He noted a NESTA study, which claimed that universal superfast broadband would add £18bn to the UK's GDP. The Information, Technology and Information Foundation calculated that a government investment of £5bn in next generation access would also create nearly 300,000 jobs.

Finally Hunt talked about those super-fast rural broadband pilots, adding that they were still working "to pick out the best locations for these projects" and would initiate a "procurement process to start in the autumn, so that the first projects will be in place by this time next year". Nice but still very slow progress.

It's unclear precisely what will come out of today's BDUK event, though the government has promised to come back in September 2010 with a clear plan for the legislative changes that are needed (access to fibre ducts etc.), and a timetable for making it happen. We hope that includes major changes to the ridiculous tax on new fibre optic lines, which are currently dangerously high and seriously unbalanced.

UPDATE 16th July 2010

Something else to come out of the event was a proposal aimed at opening up the fibre optic links used by many local authorities and services around the country for use by residents too. In some places we have already seen this happen (NYnet and NextGenUs has done it in parts of Yorkshire) and expanding upon it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

However we should remember that the most isolated communities often live further away from these, thus extending the use of local networks is still only a small part of the wider battle and can already be done.
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