The past year has been important for Broadband Britain with the topic of digital inclusion at the top of the agenda for the government. The Digital Britain Report provided journalists with a lot of reading to do as it spanned so many different areas from digital radio to security and safety in a digital world. One thing we can be certain of, is that no matter what the report said, Lord Carter had a difficult task to try and satisfy everyone with demands for tougher action on music piracy on one side and those lobbying for more consumer rights on another. The government appointed Martha Lane Fox as Digital Inclusion Champion to campaign for the plight of the most disadvantaged in particular. Her aim is to focus on getting the six million poorest citizens online and she has already been trying to understand some of the barriers other groups like the elderly have in going online.
Of course the biggest news is the government's announcement of a '2 meg' Universal Service Commitment (USC) which confirms the governments ambitions that by 2012, everyone in the UK will be able to receive a broadband service on a line capable of downstream speeds of up to 2 Mbps. This will be funded by the 'digital surplus', an underspend on the digital TV switchover budget. The plans however lack detail and there has been confusion between the government and civil servants as to whether this was a minimum 2 Mbps guarantee, or a commitment to try to achieve it, with very little in terms of detail on what this 2 Mbps actually means--Is it all the time, or just off-peak?
The government also confirmed the introduction of the so called 'broadband tax', a 50 pence (ex vat) monthly levy on all fixed telephone lines which would fund next generation broadband deployment for those areas where market led approaches are unlikely to succeed. We are glad to see the detail is at least closing some of the loopholes raised when this proposal was first made in the Digital Britain Report.
Government policy on illegal peer-to-peer file sharing has been slightly more dubious with one policy being recommended by the report, followed by what some might call a tougher stance including quicker imposition of technical measures. We do struggle to see the logic behind this decision which lacks both social and technical understanding about how illegal file sharing works. We are also disappointed that the government did not take this opportunity to encourage the installation of fibre cabling.
Earlier this summer, we launched our broadband notspot site which helps to track areas where you can't get broadband or you can only get slow broadband services, below 2 Mbps. We've had over 10,000 registrations by users and it paints a clear picture showing every corner of the UK struggling to deliver 2 Mbps to everyone in the area, even in the biggest cities, including London.
BT introduced its 'fibre to the cabinet' or 'FTTC' services in pilot areas including Muswell Hill, which now allow for upstream speeds of up to 10Mbps which will be of particular interest to businesses who have long waited for additional upstream capacity. BT is also increasing its 'fibre to the home' (FTTH) plans. Meanwhile, Virgin Media continue to dominate the super-fast broadband space with its 50 meg service.
We launched a new tool to help you to compare mobile broadband services, listing every package we could find. We will be looking to introduce this powerful filtering system which allows you to narrow down the possible packages with a single click for each criteria, rather than filling in long forms, on to our main listings soon.
We have some exciting plans for 2010 with new tools to help you get the most out of your broadband connection, including updates to our broadband bandwidth meter (tbbMeter) to provide better statistics by type of traffic.
IIn the next few months, we will see the run up to the General Election which may lead to interesting debates about broadband in some constituencies, although there are likely to be more pressing matters for many in the current financial climate. The Digital Economy Bill is just about to enter the Committee Stage in the House of Lords and the government is likely to try and get this completed prior to calling the election.
We expect to see more next generation access rollout next year, including the setup of the organisation around the funding of next generation access for those communities funded by the levy, but there is an air of uncertainty which is likely to only intensify until a new government is formed.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff and moderators for all their help over the past year and look forward to finding better and more interesting ways to help users in the next.
Happy New Year!
Sebastien & John