Talk is cheap in politics and in the last week we have seen one group of people in the Labour Party suggest that the UK should aim for 1 Gbps to everyone with work starting as soon as possible in the next Parliament. Today has seen Sajid Javid talking at the Conservative Party Conference and he pushes the previous ambition from when Jeremy Hunt was Culture Secretary to be best of the major countries in Europe much further wanting the UK to compete with Japan and South Korea in the global digital economy.
"Since 2010, access to Superfast Broadband has doubled and we already have the best broadband coverage of any large European nation. But beating France and Germany is never enough. We need to compete with the likes of Japan and South Korea. So yes, we’re making progress, but there’s still more to do."Sajid Javid: Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2014
While many are presuming that this means a fibre to the home or Gigabit future for everyone, it is worth highlighting that the Culture Minister did not actually say that. Competition is not just about who can wave around the fastest speed test result, but also about whether every last corner can get sufficient speed to trade in a digital economy and many other factors. Pushing 100 Mbps downloads to 100% of UK homes and businesses in the term of the next Parliament might be enough, to win the speed crown once you look at average speeds.
The Labour Party comments about broadband were more specific about the 1 Gbps, but the largest caveat is that the paper has not been adopted as party policy and even today's is not formal party policy for the Conservatives. All too often people remember what they want to hear, rather than what was said at the time.
Going head to head in a Gigabit race with South Korea would be interesting to witness given the head start that country has, and it might involve destroying the nascent FTTH/FTTB industry in the UK, since mandated access could simply be creating regional monopolies that mean any chance of value for money from existing superfast spending is wasted. The alternate view is that the BT Group may see this as a chance to sell G.FAST and/or FTTH (depending on the economics of each distribution point), and that would be an unpopular choice for many campaigners. If a policy does arrive after the 2015 General Election meaning the broadband arms race is ramped up, then firms like CityFibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media who are all in the FTTH game to varying extents will be sure to have a lot to say.
At the end of the day ambitions and dreams are great, but forgive us for not getting too excited about the potential for a big leap in speeds just yet.