The Superfast Broadband and 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment are one of the showcase technology projects for the UK Government, but two local authorities have decided to skip the scheme and go it alone. North and South Tyneside did not submit a plan to the BDUK by the February 2012 deadline, though they are working towards the same goals independent of central funding.
While saying no to the £3.4m allocated to the area by BDUK seems odd, it may be that the area favours its independence to proceed without the overt influence from Westminster. Cornwall and Digital Region in South Yorkshire pre-empted any of the BDUK funding when it announced its own superfast broadband project back in September 2010, and to date are perhaps the only two regions delivering a service.
The next deadline is the end of April 2012 by when plans should be finalised and the lengthy procurement phase started. Fingers crossed the first connections might appear before the end of December 2012, but we currently expect most work to start in mid 2013, with the main bulk of the final third who will benefit from the projects seeing progress in 2014.
The status of the various projects is as follows:
The press release carries the hint that if areas fail to meet the subsequent deadlines, then a national project will act as a backstop, though as yet no detail is available on what this would entail or what funds are available beyond what has not been handed out via BDUK already.
The question now is when do the plans appear from the Government to cover the next phase between 2015 and 2020, when the EU wants the UK to have 30 Mbps available to all citizens. This likely to require another round of procurement and funding, VDSL2 can meet this figure for the vast majority, but each Openreach cabinet (and there are 85,000 across the UK) will have a handful of lines connecting at speeds better than the current ADSL average speed, but well below the 25 Mbps that is considered superfast currently.
The eventual end goal will be fibre to the premises and the removal of all metallic local loops (both Openreach and Virgin Media), at that point increases in data capacity should be manageable by equipment upgrades on the end of the fibre, rather than continual civil work that is expensive. We may even see ugly satellite dishes and TV aerials vanishing from the streetscape as IPTV over fibre can compete with the picture quality satellite based delivery, and without the expensive time slots.