Would you support a scheme that promised 100Mbps as a minimum connection speed to around 85% of homes in the UK by 2020? Well the communications regulator in the United States looks set to do something like this according to PC Pro. The proposal is part of the National Broadband Plan expected to be published next month, and will require providers to offer a minimum of 100Mbps connections to 100 million homes by 2020. For those not aware of the demographics of the United States, there are around 114 million homes at present, but this is growing by around a million a year, so coverage of 85% by current figures might be 80% in 2020.
Current UK plans revolve around Labour planning to implement a 'final third' project funded by a 50p telephone line levy that will boost next generation broadband coverage to around 90% in the UK by 2017. The speeds that people will receive are undefined but general understanding suggests 25Mbps. The Conservatives favour a more commercially led approach, providing stimuli if, as 2017 approaches, a 90% target looks likely not to happen. We have asked the Liberal Democrats for details on their plans in this area, but as yet there has been no response.
Average speeds in the United States are somewhere around 4Mbps, which is pretty close to the UK average, but some providers commenting in the PC Pro article suggest 100Mbps is just a dream and that customers don't want it. The issue here is that we are talking ten years away. At the recent Virgin Media business launch it was intimated that sales of their higher speed products (20Mbps and 50Mbps) is increasing, which suggests the desire among the public for speeds well above the current averages is increasing. One trend that is likely to accelerate is the amount of updates or storage people do over the Internet, meaning that in 2020, particularly in homes with more than one computer, current connection speeds will probably behave like dial-up does now if you try to update anti-virus definitions or download the latest software updates for your operating system and software applications.
If the FCC does not water this plan down, then the UK will have to keep a watchful eye, as a very fast broadband network could stimulate the software industry to exploit it, and ruin many of the hopes that both present and future governments have for the UK becoming a big digital economy player. Though looking into the crystal ball, it is likely that Virgin Media will be offering 100Mbps and faster over its DOCSIS 3.0 network before 2017 covering around 50% of UK homes, and the BT Openreach FTTP network which should be available to around 4% of UK homes by 2012 will be able to provide 100Mbps.