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15
Aug

Lords warn UK broadband plan puts too much emphasis on speed

In a recent publication by the House of Lords Communications Committee – ‘Broadband for all – an alternative vision’ – it was claimed that the Government’s national broadband strategy is heading in the wrong direction.

Despite praising the Government’s attempts to widen broadband access and create a high-speed infrastructure, the report claims that the strategy is too “preoccupied with the delivery of certain speeds to consumers.” It says that the focus of the strategy – known generally as Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) – should instead be on inclusivity, and ensuring that all UK citizens have adequate access to broadband services.

Significantly, the Lords Communication Committee called for internet access to be “seen as a domestic essential and regarded as a key utility.” They also said that the priority of BDUK should be bridging the so-called ‘digital divide’ between city dwellers and those in rural areas currently lacking in adequate broadband access.

Broadband pilot schemes in rural areas

While many agree with these principles, it may come as a surprise that the Committee was so critical of the Government’s broadband strategy regarding inclusivity. BDUK states that one of its principle roles “is to bring super fast broadband to the third of UK homes and businesses which won’t be provided for by the broadband market and would otherwise miss out”. To this end it has initiated a number of broadband pilot schemes aimed at bringing high speed internet access to some of the remotest areas of the UK.

Some would say that all these arguments, though well meaning, are missing the point. Alternative connectivity technologies like satellite broadband from EuropaSat (formerly ToowayDirect) are already delivering truly fast broadband speeds literally anywhere and everywhere, and are being used in the pilot schemes as well as by many thousands of happy customers across the UK. (Read what our customers genuinely think about us in our section – Tooway Reviews.)

The four initial rural pilots are taking place in areas of Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Herefordshire and the Highlands. The aim of these pilot schemes, which are together receiving approximately £40m in public funding, is to connect remote and hard to reach communities in these areas to super fast broadband of the type which is more typically found in urban areas. Last year Wiltshire, Devon and Somerset (through the Rural Connection project) and Norfolk were also selected to take part in the pilot scheme, with the overall aim being to establish the cost and specifics of providing high speed internet access to all areas of the country that currently lack it.

At the same time, the government plants to make ten of the UK’s largest cities, including London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, ‘super-connected.’ These cities are to be given funding to provide them with city-wide broadband at even faster speeds. A further ten cities will also be given public money to enhance broadband speeds.

Universal Service Commitment – The 2 Mb Target for 2015

The Lords report reveals that 86% of broadband connections are already capable of the 2 Mb and above outlined in the Governments targets, and that super-fast broadband coverage currently stands at 60% of the UK. It also highlights important regional differences in speed, such as 94% superfast broadband coverage for Northern Ireland, compared to as low as 30% in Scotland and Wales. The full report can be viewed here.

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