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Surely a mistake - superfast broadband for all?
Monday 19 September 2011 12:25:49 by Andrew Ferguson

The superlatives for describing broadband, and back in its day dial-up, have always caused confusion, so today to see it being reported that the Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander has suggested that high-speed broadband should cover all the UK is taken with some skepticism.

In its day, 56Kbps dial-up connections were often called high-speed as opposed to the older 28Kbps standard, so without specifics it is difficult to know what Danny Alexander really means. Hopefully it is something like a goal of getting broadband at 25Mbps or faster to around 99.9% of the UK by 2018. Earlier would be nice, but if honest, seeing how long funding and procurement takes it seems unlikely a realistic target could be earlier.

The current goal for the whole UK is a Universal Service Commitment of 2Mbps by 2015, which originally had a date of 2012 under the Labour government. The use of the word high-speed, rather than super-fast to us suggests perhaps a 10Mbps target, revising the 2Mbps figure. This is a figure that is achievable by satellite and wireless services, removing the need for very long fibre runs in the most remote areas. Newer 4G mobile broadband services such as LTE (Long Term Evolution), should also help with achieving this.

While writing this article we checked on the definition of superfast broadband on the BDUK website, and its glossary lists:

Superfast Broadband – BDUK has defined Superfast Broadband as having a potential headline access speed of at least 20Mbps, with no upper limit. Typically, at a wholesale level, the underlying capability can be measured in gigabits. The retail market then takes this capability and delivers affordable propositions.

Extract from BDUK glossary

We recall previously the figure of 25Mbps or faster being the general definition, so either this has changed, or people have been using the wrong figure. A difference of 5Mbps sounds not much, but it is important, since 20Mbps allows ADSL2+ as a solution, and allows retailers to claim that the short exchange only lines that can connect at 20Mbps and higher with ADSL2+ are actually a superfast service. Thus, the small number of people in areas where FTTC is rolled out, but go direct to the exchange rather than the cabinet are unlikely to see any help from BDUK, and no pressure on BT to do a FTTP roll-out for this small number of people.

The Communications Management Association has also waded into the super-fast debate with criticism of BT and Ofcom. There are no surprise to see criticism of BT, it is often seen as holding back things in the UK. Previously it was local-loop unbundling (LLU), now it is duct access through PIA products (Physical Infrastructure Access). Complaining about BT releasing roll-out information in dribs and drabs is harder to stomach. BT has shareholders, and has the freedom to adjust its investment strategies as it sees fit, just like Virgin Media, Sky and TalkTalk. The situation is different in other parts of Europe as the pressure has been to get a largely fibre roll-out done, rather than wholesaled or technology neutral funding, i.e. they build it and then fix the issues later.

Has Ofcom been too light with its regulation? Perhaps, but then the pressure on Ofcom from Westminster has hardly encouraged rapid and decisive action. Also Ofcom is seen as a massive body, and the sum of all its parts may make it pretty large, but those looking after each area that Ofcom covers are usually fairly few in number. If Ofcom bows to pressure and forces a further widening of the split of Openreach from the BT Group, then while the long term result may be better, the medium 2 to 4 year area may see lots of things stall. It has taken a few years for Openreach to find its feet since its creation, and things like fault investigations are still far from ideal - the many layers between consumer and physical line operator resulting in some being stuck in help system loops, or faced with bills for visits that really were of no use.

So no celebrations, just some healthy skepticism over the news of high-speed broadband for all. Concern over where the extra money will come from, for example could more government services where people can walk in and talk to a real person be moved into cyberspace as a way to save money? The goal of online services is all to often to save money, rather than actually improve service, and we should not forget that not everyone wants to or can engage online.


Posted by mervl over 6 years ago
Politicians telling people whatever they want to hear? Heaven forbid!
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
:) Exactly.... file this under "Broken Promises" please with the rest of them
Posted by themanstan over 6 years ago
The only way that the existing money, both public and private, could extend to this coverage, would be through abolition of business rates on fibre...
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
Also every part of the country is different to every home in the country. I bet rural/remotes still wouldn't be covered in some areas, anyway why are we debating it hehehe its laughable
Posted by fibrebunny over 6 years ago
I assume he means all in the truly 'unlimited' sense of the word. :p
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Business rates on FTTH are £8/year per connected home. A deal breaker ? No.

OFCOM define superfast as 25M or higher, to differentiate it from the top end of ADSL2+

BDUK wrote 20M but may have slipped to 15M recently to coincide with a well known product.
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
@fibrebunny lol or "up to" all of the country
Posted by themanstan over 6 years ago
@ herdwick, who said deal breaker? I said that the extra funds would allow more roll-out.
And where did £8 come from?
VOA manual states £20 per connection for non-BT. That all adds up in terms of potential capital investment being paid as tax instead.

see fig.4 and 5
Posted by rizla over 6 years ago
Alexander is a gormless fool, but I wouldn't worry about him for you won't be seeing him (or any other LibDems from Scotland) after 2015. LibDems=Tories up there so game over for Danny boy.

You have to wonder about the levels of nepotism/corruption for idiots like this to get to the position he has.

Peter Principle gone mad :(
Posted by Talk1968 over 6 years ago
I doubt there will be many Lib Dems from any part of the UK after 2015.

Shame its either Labour or Tory, ( or SNP who plan to give us Independence in Scotland and then throw it away by selling us out to the Euro and Europe ) its always out of the frying pan into the fire with politics in this country.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
I think you may be overlooking the rates that would not be raised from BT and Virgin too. If the rates are dropped for the small operators then they go for the big boys too, bearing in mind that numerous courts have ruled the current arrangements as equitable.

I may be wrong but I'm not sure the government would want to give up that much money.
Posted by c_j_ over 6 years ago
"Has Ofcom been too light with its regulation? Perhaps, but then the pressure on Ofcom from Westminster has hardly encouraged rapid and decisive action"

I'd have said the traditional revolving door between Ofcom and the ISPs was a bigger problem for most of the history of UK broadband.

Speaking of "UK Broadband" (or whatever they're called this week), where are auction winners and licence holders (but invisible service deliverers) PCCW these days, just as fixed wireless access is being talked about again?
Posted by themanstan over 6 years ago
HMRC receipts from BT fibre has been going down year on year. Wouldn't be surprised if VMs was reducing too. £8 is proposed value per property, current charge is £20... but VOA have nopt released any info on whether the "proposal" actually will happen is another matter, maybe like the fibre tax review.
Posted by Bob_s2 over 6 years ago
The best option would be for the Open Network Consortium toget this. Suffolf is a sizable but mainly rural county with few large towns.

Having small companies set up a network is expensive as it does not get the economies of scale.

The chances of a small company selling it wholesale is low as the big ISP's would not want to deal with dozens of small companies and it is also a very expensive approach
Posted by GMAN99 over 6 years ago
Except they don't exist do they Bob apart from a press release months back and saying that they would need all of the BDUK cash to do this which they didn't get?

Its ok suggesting it but where are they? Have they actually tendered for any money to date?
Posted by deezel45 over 6 years ago
I,m 6.79km from my exchange on 50 year old lines I get on average 1/2mb dl speeds that falter at least 4 times a year with an argument with BT every time the line fails ( usually noisy line)when they try and charge me for the engineers visit.

These statements are just a joke to me.
Posted by rayvon over 6 years ago
Just sums up the Lib Dems.....a Joke.

I live within 3 miles of a major city centre,BT has no plans to upgrade my exchange.I am lucky to get 2mb on O2 LLU,struggled to get 1.5mb with BT.

By the time their deadline comes for fast speeds for all they will be long gone,them and their broken promises.
Posted by themanstan over 6 years ago
The USC is the option of being able to get faster BB nationwide. That means in some instances people will not have a choice over the type of BB they use to get that faster speed. This could mean if your area is serviced by say satellite BB or 3/4G, then USC is fulfilled. That BT (or any other ISP) hasn't given you a faster connection and this alternative is more expensive (albeit still affordable) does not detract from the fact that the commitmment has been met.
Posted by fastman over 6 years ago

how do you know that BT have no plans to upgrade your exchnage or has it not been declared which is not the same thing

Posted by Kaufhof over 6 years ago
Whatever Danny Alexander means, it is not going to mean any increase in public spending, so see the first comment!
Posted by deezel45 over 6 years ago
re politicians and what they say

good rule of thumb is if you take the diametric opposite of what is said your more likely to get the most accurate outcome
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