With the UK Government hoping to announce that the UK has the best broadband in Europe in 2015, how the UK stands in statistics announced by the EU as part of its Digital Agenda may help inform progress in the absence of similar statistics from the BDUK and others.
The UK generally fares very well in terms of coverage of basic broadband, and even merits 100% coverage of broadband in one form or another. We also have the third largest number of broadband lines, where we do start to fall behind is take-up of services at speeds of 30 Mbps and faster. The UK is in 3rd place with regards to the share of fixed broadband lines at 10 Mbps or faster, but moving to a speed of 30 Mbps or faster, we shift to below average across the EU at just 5.5% of lines.
Countries like Romania, Lithuania head the table for take-up of superfast services, but their national coverage of any broadband is just 82% and 88.5%. The suggestion is that in the UK the push that occurred in 2003 to 2006 to get ADSL services as widespread as possible, along with regulator pressure to ensure LLU was a success has hampered the roll-out of superfast services. Until 2009, the rules stopped BT/Openreach deploying FTTC/P.
The moves by Virgin Media to slowly upgrade customers to faster speeds, and only sell a 30 Mbps minimum service will have an increasing impact on the statistics, and in three years it is very likely that the few million Virgin Media customers will all be on a service running at 50 Mbps or faster. The Openreach full and partial fibre services are grabbing the attention of the public, and the questioning about where/when/how fast are reminiscent of the ADSL rollout in 2002-2003.
The EU has some €9.2bn to spend to get the 27 EU countries broadband services running at speeds that will meet the EU 2020 targets. The difficult one for the UK which is very price sensitive is how to drive take-up of 30 Mbps and faster services, not an easy task when millions are used to shopping around for broadband and seeing prices of £3.25 to £10 a month.
Hopefully the BDUK and UK Government will start to publish its Broadband Scorecard soon, so that we can track our progress towards the targets. If the only publication is the final scorecard result saying job done, then many critics will claim the scoring system was fixed.