The Broadband Universal Service Commitment (USC) has been a part of the UK broadband landscape since July 2009, but until now it has consisted of various Government papers, and speeches by Ministers. The news that a group named Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is set to start its work on the USC is welcome news, as it means that there is a chance of meeting the target of 2Meg for all by 2012.
The press release tells us very little about who is part of the group, and does not reveal any web presence so that people can see what they are getting up to. We would presume that this will change very quickly, with the developments both positive and negative being open and visible to all.
The BDUK has two roles:
"Taking advantage of new technologies like next generation broadband is vital to the growth of the UK’s economy and it’s important that all homes and businesses can access the opportunities faster speeds bring.
This report makes clear that without public intervention, some rural areas and less well off communities will be left behind and unable to reap the economic, health and education benefits superfast broadband offers. Our proposed £1billion Next Generation Fund will help bring the benefits of super fast broadband to more communities.
We do not want to risk the digital gap widening, which is why we have put a team of experts in place to ensure further investment is targeted at those people without adequate access."Stephen Timms, Minister for Digital Britain
The next few weeks are crucial to how the BDUK and the USC are perceived. There remains uncertainty as to what 2Mbps means in technical terms; a general suspicion is that this is being kept vague so that a variety of technical solutions can be deployed, including satellite access, fixed wireless, mobile and landline based solutions. The USC as it stands could be met, by simply handing out vouchers that give subsidised satellite access for all those that ask for it. Also a lot of the general public may already have connections of 3 or 4Mbps but are not able to actually run all the applications the USC is setting to address due to contention/congestion issues. Whether the USC will address and force providers into ensuring a baseline of services is possible at peak times is something that needs to be clarified urgently.
The timescale for the USC is certainly short, particularly if the normal timescales of research and tendering for contracts are undertaken. The forthcoming General Election should not impede the USC too much, as this part of the Digital Britain Report has widespread backing. The Next Generation Fund is another matter, with the Conservatives keen to leave it to market forces and only act if the free market is seen to be stalling.
At thinkbroadband, when we talk about 'next generation broadband', we generally refer to services faster than 25Mbps (downstream), but since this has not being defined by the Government we might find that ADSL2+ with a maximum speed of 24Mbps being deployed. Given the way some broadband providers push ADSL2+ as being Next Generation, a definition would be very welcome. ADSL2+ has been available in parts of the UK since 2005. Even we should consider this definition carefully given Virgin Media's plans to launch 100Mbps broadband connections by the end of the year across its network.