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Ofcom Consumer Panel talk Next Generation Broadband
Wednesday 03 September 2008 12:50:47 by Andrew Ferguson

Broadband in the UK has been a commercial reality for eight years, and the last couple of years has seen a slow move towards next generation services. ADSL2+ with up to 24Mbps speeds was a small step, and the Virgin Media upgrades to DceOCSIS 3.0 represent a large jump. Fibre services represent the commonly held dream of 100Mbps connections to the home, but wireless keeps poking its head in.

The Ofcom Consumer Panel which does not necessarily have to toe the Ofcom line has spoken out on Next Generation Broadband (above 25Mbps is the baseline definition they use) and its worries about what may happen if a purely commercial roll-out is allowed to happen. The basic concern is roughly the same as existed with the ADSL roll-outs in 2001/2002, that many communities would be left behind. Many people view broadband as an essential but the availability figures mask a situation where plenty of communities have no broadband still, or one that is slow or unreliable. Areas like Ewhurst in Surrey are a long way from what one would call rural isolation, but it still has properties with no ADSL available, or very poor speeds and is the result of purely commerical led approaches. If fibre is the main choice for next-gen services, then the problem of being just feet from a fibre but not able to connect to it will be even more frustrating.

As an example of the difficulties involved in even getting reasonable first generation broadband, Ewhurst is a brilliant example, residents seem willing to raise money to help with the roll-out, but no-one appears to be listening since in the big financial picture they are but a raindrop falling into an ocean.

So what is the Ofcom Consumer Panel suggesting, in the first instance someone needs to do some work to identify the areas where commercial roll-outs are not likely to happen, and then address this rapidly. It is also asking those in charge of the purse strings to consider that while people may not be hammering at the door now for access to services like Telemedicine it may only be a few years down the road where visits to the GP surgery are much rarer than today, and given that transport costs are only likely to rise people may snap up any chance to save on travel costs.

Any subsidised approach to avoiding a digital divide needs to be careful to ensure it does not back a technology dead-end, or end up subsidising an unsustainable business model.

If the current commercial roll-outs continue we are likely to simply see the same old pattern, of lots of differing solutions across the UK, with the company with the deepest pockets slowly buying up struggling firms, or pricing others out of the market, resulting in just one or two firms holding the information infrastructure to ransom. It is this sort of commercial approach that has resulted in Virgin Media having a static coverage of the UK at around 50% of households. Some may consider that broadband is an utility and needs to be handled as such, but looking at the gas, water and electricity industries utilities are not always such a roaring success for the consumer.


Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
if they get what they want they risk BT replying ok we will pull out of the rollout, I think even ofcom is slowly realising over regulating will strangle progression. Any logical rollout of next gen will be the most profiteable areas first, nothing more. After that is done then try and sort the rest out.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Wireless services are a joke. I can name one wireless company (which i wont here) which on average only offers 10Mb and last time i looked which wasnt long ago cost around 50 quid a month and had cloe to a 200 quid start up fee as they have to come and shove an around A5 sized aerial on the side of your house. I wonder how many of the moaners that want higher speeds would pay that if it was country wide available..... Not many i bet.
Posted by Aqualung over 8 years ago
perhaps they should have made all isp's either a)provide a percentage of the difficult areas broadband or b)pay a levy to those providers who do it seems crazy to allow isp's to cherry pick.
But to be fair i havent a clue who ofcom work on behalf but i have to see something that benefits the consumer......
Posted by SFD1968_Derby over 8 years ago
Sounds like a good idea in principle (and it would benefit me to a certain extent, as I've only got 0.5mbit and can't get faster due to line length and not ADSL2+ enabled yet). However, would BT or anyone else do a roll out in the areas which are currently under-served or not served at all?? I doubt it. It seems that the shareholders must come first and the customers(or potential customers) can go whistle.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
Well I dont see a need to force BT to provide fibre to anywhere except those areas that have no connectivity at all, it may suck if you stuck on 576kbit costing more than LLU, but you do have broadband which is a better scenarion than rurual areas in most other countries. Cherry picking is what keeps costs down and makes things viable.
Posted by dougk over 8 years ago
I sort of agree with chryslis.
I believe anywhere where a 4mb or better connection is available should be ignored until everyone else can get to that level. certainly those in LLU areas should NOT be upgraded further by BT at this stage. connections above 4MB are adequate for 99% of the population and you certainly don't NEED 24MB to do anything for residential purposes.
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
to be honest I think 576bit is adequate for 95% of the population, whether it will be in 10 years doubtful but by then BT would be past their initial rollout and perhaps expanding it to other areas anyway. People who want the digital divide to close is not because they need it to but rather they dont like they not getting the same value for money.
Posted by rjohnloader over 8 years ago
Im about to move to a 0.5Mb/s location as the exchange is 4 miles away. Fibre to the cabinet seems attractive as the village has around 180 houses, would mean duct work would never be needed again, would gain some income for BT given how much copper they could scrap and prevent cable theft. Alternatively isn't it about time that BT put wi fi on its exchanges?
Posted by Middlefield over 8 years ago
I too am in an area where speeds are from 200KB/s - 500KB/s; I actually had better performance from my old ISDN. Fibre to cabinet would solve the problem and fibre can be blown through existing cable ducts at low cost when it suits BT. Why not move in this direction?
Posted by Braiswick over 8 years ago
There's wider concerns - community media (and there are now over 300 radio stations, and a growing number of TV stations) are not being included in the digital transfer. Yet such stations provide really local coverage, while the BBC is allowed to get away with banal phone-ins, and they get a really large lump of money while 300 volunteer-run community stations share £0.5 million - just about enough to buy all volunteers a cup of tea each week.
Posted by dragon1945 over 8 years ago
4 years ago BT said I would have BB by the end of the decade if I was lucky.
3 years ago BT said my phone line was 512 kbps yet Homecall gave me 1.4 MB over the same phone cable from the same Exchange.I checked with BT in July. They still said only 512 kbps was possible? I get 1.6 MB with Talktalk,from the same Exchange and same cable.
Roll out of fibre? No chance. The cost must be covered by income derived. There aren't enough houses out here for Cable TV or Fibre to pay for itself.
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
well blame all the greedy downloaders, and all the companies that believed their salesmen that said it was possible to sell it that way... and also the 'litigious' people that decided to take on the companies for the 'full truth' about 'unlimited' products, another salesmans dream...

without the above, the whole market would be far more 'profitable' than it is now...

And do stop saying 'it was better 5 years ago' - there were also 1000's less using it then, and many companies have ceased trading due to profits going down...
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
Big companies like BT move very slowly, they lost a major UK deal while they were trying to get into USA.. Now I'll bet they are still using old kit, while smaller companies know to 'speculate to accumulate' - so get better kit put in to win more custom...
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
comnut - You've quoted this deal before. Why do you think BT are using old kit?
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
well what other explanation do you have for BT getting such bad speeds, when others have no problem???
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
Not often i agree with comnut but he does have a small point here (though i think his reasoning is wrong)

Why is it someone with a poor line with BT on their upto 8Mb service may only get 2Mb, but if they move to SOME LLU providers that speed can almost in some cases double to say 4Mb?
Have BT ever explained that?
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
Obviously different kit. What would ADSL2 give them?
Posted by comnut over 8 years ago
well its not rocket science.... try out two diff boxes to the SAME cable, one box is better, it wont be the cables fault!!
Posted by CARPETBURN over 8 years ago
quote"Obviously different kit. What would ADSL2 give them?"

Ive no idea, i suspect ADSL2+ increases for those with poor lines will be down to the individuals line.
Im a ukonline ADSL2+ user and one of the lucky ones not too far from the exchange etc, however the example i gave of some coming from a BT MAX product to ukonlines LLU upto 8Mb product has often seen their speed increase. Storys about how happy people are their speed has gone up a few Mb often appear in ukonline forums... Pretty weird they only get say 2Mb on a BT MAX type product and suddenly it increases
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