Another body has waded into the on-going war of words that UK broadband is useless and failing to meet peoples needs. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has published its Rural broadband and digital-only services report.
For anyone who has done more than read the headlines, it should have been clear that the current 90% of UK to get superfast broadband projects were going to miss perhaps half the rural premises, the phase 2 roll-out to 95% of UK premises improves this further, and the alternative non-BT solutions under test for the final 5%, seem to suggest that the Government is working on trying to understand what might work and not cost an arm and a leg to do the most rural parts of the UK.
"We were concerned to hear BT tell us that the present target of 95% of premises receiving superfast broadband by 2017 may slip. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) must make it clear that the target date must be met. A target date for when the last 5% of premises will obtain access to superfast broadband coverage must be published. (Paragraph 14)
4. For many services, 2 Megabits per second (Mbps) is already an outdated figure, and 10 Mbps is increasingly recommended as a suitable USC for standard provision. The Government must reassess whether the 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment remains a valid one. (Paragraph 20)
5. Millions of pounds are being invested in the rollout of superfast broadband at 24 Megabits per second. Within three years of the expected delivery date, however, that speed will no longer be considered ‘superfast’ by European standards. (Paragraph 22)
6. Councils need access to timely data from BT that allows them accurately to monitor take-up of broadband. Equally, they need access to timely data from BT about planned broadband coverage and speed. It has been argued that distributing information about broadband coverage on a postcode by postcode basis can be misleading. An ‘enabled’ postcode does not necessarily mean that each premise within the postcode is enabled. (Paragraph 25)Extracts from report conclusion
This committee is not the first and won't be the last to call for a 10 Mbps, parts of Ofcom have suggested that 10 Mbps is a better figure to set, but given the European Union has already effectively set a USC of 30 Mbps minimum for 2020 and 50% subscribing to 100 Mbps then surely it would be better to work towards that. Of course the Government led roll-outs are heading towards 100%, but as yet no firm plans on how this will be delivered, largely because no-one wants to commit to spending an unknown amount, or working from what are now decade old estimates. The BT FTTC roll-out while not perfect is producing large improvements to many rural villages, it is the remote farmhouses and workers cottages that are yet to see any sign of help and infuriatingly for farmers it is at a time when they are being forced to do DEFRA paperwork online.
From watching the PAC meeting at the end of January and reading this report, the anger stems from the moving of farming data submissions to a digital system and the savings this creates not being used to provide farmers with training, computers and broadband connections. We can easily say satellite broadband is the solution, and the European Union has already said it is, and while it is not perfect or the cheapest solution it does offer a way to connect and do the key business needs online. The fact that HD Netflix viewing would be expensive in terms of data volume is of minor consequence, i.e. its nice to have but should we as a nation use tax-payers money on that, or a decent quality Health Service for all.
It is easy to criticise BT, they are a big target and makes lots of promises, but worryingly they appear to be working towards the contract targets for the phase 1 roll-out, the real debate should have been had before any contracts were signed. Dare we suggest that the degree of questioning while needed may actually put off other potential bidders for other contracts.
At the end of the day the committee report should have said just one thing, 'we believe the Government has done the superfast roll-out the wrong way round and should have done the roll-out from the most remote properties inwards, rather than from edges of current commercial outwards'.
In the mean time if you are a rural business, then its either do it yourself, or compromise order something that is available now, or wait for someone else to do it and risk political priorities changing.