In a week where we have had one think tank say that we are focused on speed too much and that universal coverage is more important it seems a discussion held by Policy Exchange and attended by V3 turned in a discussion on speeds.
"It [the 2Mbit/s base] was determined by a range of factors about what was deemed necessary at the time to have a basic internet experience and that's how we arrived at 2Mbit/s...
That's clearly no longer the case, it's more around 8-10Mbit/s now and this will evolve over time, so it's unlikely that would still be sufficient in 2020."Ofcom group director for strategy, Steve Unger
The current plan is that 2 Mbps will be the baseline speed for broadband in the UK at some point in 2015, with everyone having access to a service at that speed. A further EU target for 2020 is a speed of 30 Mbps, meaning that even with the spending on the USC there will be further work, and the UK Government has already earmarked £300m from the TV Licence fee for spending on broadband between 2015-2017 and more funding should be available from the EU.
Our own polls show that the visitors to thinkbroadband would clearly like the USC to be in the region of 8 Mbps to 20 Mbps. Given the original 2 Mbps requirement was debated and set back in 2009 under the previous Labour government and then not revised in 2010 after the General Election there certainly is scope for a change. The problem now being that with funding already allocated to projects and contracts signed, changing the goal posts will be very difficult.
Perhaps the best way forward is to try and ensure that on projects that are spending money to meet the 2 Mbps USC, that technological dead-ends are avoided. Certainly the installation of broadband repeaters that may cost £1000 per property and only give 2 Mbps speeds should be avoided where at all possible.
There is a dangerous game that could be played, and with the Ka band satellite services now offering 18 Mbps connections, it would be very easy to change the USC and then hand out vouchers for satellite service installations and claim job well done.
If the opinion of Steve Unger is also held by others in Ofcom, then what needs to happen now is for Ofcom and other bodies involved in Internet regulation and funding to ensure that plans for improvements in the time frame 2015 to 2020 are actively started, so that once the current wave of USC and superfast projects come to an end, that focus can be concentrated on the areas where speeds are slowest. Given that it has taken from 2010 till the very end of 2012 for the first BDUK cabinet to be deployed, the time frame is clear that if we wait until all the BDUK and RCBF projects complete there will be a two or three year period of political debate with little change in physical delivery of broadband.