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House of Lords calls for Internet access to be a utility
Wednesday 18 February 2015 16:17:51 by Andrew Ferguson

One of the perennial problems with broadband and Internet is that at its core it is a technical field and we have once more in the last day being reading a report - this time from the House of Lords entitled 'Make or Break: The UK's Digital Future'. While the report makes a valid and worthwhile call for Internet access to be universal in the UK it neglects to provide any guidance on what sort of speeds should be considered. The UK already has a Universal Service Obligation applicable to BT and KC of functional internet access at 28 Kbps so it would be possible to reply we are already there, but we are sure the Lords meant something more like 5 to 10 Mbps to every business or households. Alas we cannot be sure as they did not say.

"43. We agree with our witnesses who urged that the Government should define the internet as a utility service that is available for all to access and use. This is the bedrock of digital competitiveness.

305. Objective 1: The population as a whole has unimpeded access to digital technology.

306. This includes:

  • facilitation of universal internet access: the internet is viewed as a utility; and
  • removal of 'not-spots' in urban areas
Extracts from lengthy report

A universal service obligation is a common request and it is interesting to see the report sing the praises of Cape Town which has a plan to manage universal coverage by 2030 and other places utilising libraries as drop in centres.

The UK is on its way to 90% superfast coverage in 2015 or early 2016 and stands at 80.9% coverage at 30 Mbps or faster by our calculations, with 85% with access to something that is fibre based. The Government has its programme (that is popular or unpopular depending on whether it will help you or not) that will deliver 95% coverage for 2017 (maybe 2018 if things are delayed) and is evaluating solutions to work out how much money would be needed to take superfast to the final 5% of the UK. Of course with a General Election looming this is scope for alternative visions and policies to be put on the table, but as yet no opposition party is talking of anything more ambitious.

One big elephant in the room is that if the UK defines Internet access as a utility it may enshrine the significant market power that BT has in the final third of the UK into law and actually make it harder for the more agile private firms that are actually helping extremely good broadband in rural areas.

Wireless broadband speeds in Central London including City of London
Click image for full size version (marker denotes City of London).

We published our speed test results for the London Boroughs back in January, and the map above shows how wide the presence of Relish who use 4G wireless technology to connect you to the Internet is across Central London which is one of the major not-spots of concern of late. The availability of superfast Openreach and Virgin Media consumer and very small SME type services is limited in the City of London at around 12.5% (total residential population under 10,000)just a few thousand residents) but alternatives exist like Relish alongside the large 4G mobile operators, which can easily be used with a dedicated 4G router.

Example of fixed wireless speeds for WildWestNet in Devon
Click image for full size version.

Fixed wireless providers have often created themselves a niche and Wild West Net who offer a service in Devon can get speeds that are many times better than existing services and in areas that are often still waiting for superfast broadband via fixed lines which may not arrive until until 2018 or later. We actually have speed tests as far east as Rose Ash, Devon and up to Bratton Fleming in the North of Devon.

If we are to declare internet access a utility in the UK, then a lot more work has to be done to get the definition and legal obligations defined, otherwise we will stifle the innovation and drive that is often overlooked in the larger picture. The repeated calls by politicians for this to happen are worthwhile, but without legislative follow-up they are ultimately hollow platitudes.


Posted by otester over 2 years ago
More government involvement isn't going to make this better.
Posted by George99 over 2 years ago
A missed opportunity. The Amiericans have the right idea - if it isn't 20mbs minimum than it cannot be described as "broadband".
Posted by George99 over 2 years ago
20Mbs I should say
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
There is plenty of money being pumped into the market let the customers decide the outcome and buy as required.
Posted by mollcons over 2 years ago
Even with Superfast which is about to be connected, I will not be getting more than 15Mbps - I live too far from the cabinet for more.

We need to follow the USA and define Broadband as being 25Mbps (or more), and let the USC follow that as a standard.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
You mean "even with NGA..."

"Superfast" *is* the adjective added to mean 25Mbps+. Except for when it means 30Mbps+, of course.

NGA is used to indicate fibre broadband without regard to speed.

Personally, I think redefining the word broadband is a terrible idea. That will just cause confusion for people who thought they knew what it meant for the last 15 years.
Posted by burble over 2 years ago
The government wish to push for all t's services to be online, if this is to be so then the case for broadband to be a utility makes some sense.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
In some senses, I think the Lords have played it about right here.

Government need to make a policy decision first: Should internet access be a universal utility?

Separate from that comes the question of a minimum specification. Who sets that target, and who decides when/whether it needs updating?

Then you can debate the market mechanisms to get there.

But the last 2 questions only get time of day once you acknowledge the first one.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
The Goverment has stimulated the market with BD UK with their step method but the public is confused with the situation but also they are just looking at the price.
As Openreach/ contractors are holding their own on change over to 5--7 working days so I get the feeling the overall public is very happy with this situation in Surrey.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
@wwwombat in which case Government answer is to ignore it and mutter about 2 Mbps USC, which gives internet access.

Utility for sewage and gas does not mean you are guaranteed service. 95% superfast target is approaching the Freeview coverage levels too.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Andrews Staff
I class under 2 meg as step one and under 5 as step two this covers Exchanges who have 21 CN services.
Posted by TheEulerID over 2 years ago

I've no idea why you've chosen 95% as the figure. It surely depends on the utility in question. Gas has lots of gaps but electricity, mains water (not sewage) and telephone are almost universal.

A market mechanism can include means for explicit cross-subsidies (via levies) or implicit (via licence conditions).
Posted by csimon over 2 years ago
"The UK already has a Universal Service Obligation applicable to BT and KC of functional internet access at 28 Kbps so it would be possible to reply we are already there"

The USO is completely worthless and out of date by now. It's like providing a USO for every home to have electricity, but only enough to power 1 light bulb. Or water, but only enough to brush your teeth once a day.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
I would think there are not many post codes showing STEP one (2---0 meg) on Thinkbroadband map results.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
95% because that is a Government target for 2017?

An gas and sewage are clearly utilities, so defining internet access as a utility does not guarantee 100% and believe B4RN said once they had fibred up premises that do not have national grid mains.

The vague wording of the Lords report means too much room for wiggling.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Broadband Watchers.
I would class Water,Gas,Power Grid,Post Office,as Utilies all use the post codes in their service. The broadband post codes are use as a range finder so in my thinking they are linked to the above. QED.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Andrews staff.
Are you having problems with Thinkbroadband map results I have been checking from 0800 today.
Posted by TheEulerID over 2 years ago

But the point is that a figure has to be set. There's not a single utility in the country that reaches 100% coverage as far as I know. The 95% is an arbitrary figure. A policy as WWWombat envisages would set its on criteria based on considerations such as social and economic matters. It might be as crude at 95%, it might not.
Posted by TheEulerID over 2 years ago
Of course it does require a parliamentary body with experts to come up with something concrete. But then, as he says, the next phase would be to establish the appropriate market/regulatory/intervention strategy to reach it.

The Lords aren't empowered to do such things. It's directed towards government (and plotical party) attention and up to do something or not.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Andrew Staff
Sorry to be a pain but my little helper was looking at the incorrect Web/page.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
Why don't you just join the forum, and create your own topics over there?

Adding spurious commentary about speed maps is a waste of space over here - and you seem rarely able to fit what you mean into the character limit here.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Wombat
As you have nothing to do with the speed maps on Thinkbroadband my remarks do not involve you only Andrews Staff unless you are working with them.
Posted by gah789 over 2 years ago
I think that some misunderstand what a USO means. It does not require or imply 100% coverage of the network. Normally, it is an obligation to make service available on standard terms, usually within some distance of the existing network. You can have electricity or phone service in a remote valley but only if you pay (on a standard basis) the extra capital cost of extending the network. There may also be provisions about the minimum standard of service or the maximum cost of providing it.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
@Blackmamba The other poster did have a point, it would be easier to follow your train of thought in a forum format rather than random news comments.

Even more so if you are actually trying to communicate with us, and as I have said many a time, if information on an area is needed for some official purpose they are free to come and talk to us. Or even do what Lincolnshire have done and run a copy of the speed test themselves.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Andrew Staff.
I have tried to communicate with you when I asked your department for a simple request the answer was NO and that was from Andrew. I had be asked by a certain person for my option on calculated speeds to post codes GPS positions back in 2011 on the last mile.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 2 years ago
No sign that this was for part of the official project at all, and the constant questioning about plotting accuracy when there was no problem has meant you to some extent have monopolised resources for no discernible benefit.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Andrew staff and Andrew.
Thanks for your reply but(I still say you drop off the results at 120 days and not 90 days).
Posted by MCM999 over 2 years ago
@BlackMamba As I and others have tried to politely ask in previous threads, please stop polluting these news threads and take your problems elsewhere. Use the forums instead.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi MCM999. Good morning.
I have no problems and I have used others forums and I have not polluted the news threads but have stated the truth if you are usable to except it that is your perogative.
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Andrew staff
I have just checked my results and the SKY entry has been removed last night which I feel backs up the above statement. The other entries should be removed in the next few days this will then switch the post code.
Posted by chrysalis over 2 years ago
funny how the house of lords repeatedly has more common sense than parliament.
Posted by WWWombat over 2 years ago
Sorry, but your comments do involve me. I have to read and discard your lousy spelling, lousy grammar and generally unreadable prose that has nothing to do with the story. Again and again and again. A total waste of time, repeated across all other readers & commenters.

Now you appear to be trolling the site. Best advice to @andrew and others is to stop responding to you - Don't feed the troll...
Posted by Blackmamba over 2 years ago
Hi Wombat.
Thanks for your reply.I am happy if Andrew removes my remarks if he think I am not keeping to the story line or giving false information. I just hope Andrews staff has not made an error in my observations and remarks.
Posted by michaels_perry over 2 years ago
They again miss the important points. Ofcom are planning for TV to be delivered only via internet (Freeview) and satellite (Sky and Freesat). For everyone to have access to TV services will require elimination of ALL not-spots, rural as well as urban/suburban. It will also require speeds to be far higher than currently, HD needs at least 8 Mbps and UHD will need more than 24 Mbps according some reports. Plus will the infrastructure cope with the data volume damanded?
Posted by galacticz00 over 2 years ago
Freeview is not internet?? But agree with your other points and Andrew's re the use of "utility" as meaningless. We don't have gas, mains drainage, access to DAB radio, superfast broadband, street lighting, commercial freeview stations.............
Posted by ian72 over 2 years ago
You have to remember that Freeview isn't 100% coverage. Where I used to live in my local city you couldn't get a signal for Freeview.
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