The Local Government Association has highlighted a desire from the councils it represents in England and Wales for the Government to publically make it clear that with the new broom that has swept through Whitehall that it is totally committed to the 10 Mbps Universal Service Obligation.
"It is undeniable that access to fast and reliable digital connectivity is a necessity for households and businesses in the UK.
Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, file tax returns and access their bank accounts. As central and local government services increasingly become ‘digital by default', more people will need to have faster and more reliable speeds.
It is paramount that the Government maintains momentum and presses ahead with plans to enshrine the USO in law. We hope that the recent changes in Government do not delay work on the USO and call on ministers to reaffirm their commitment to it.
Equally, while this minimum standard is a good start it must keep pace with national average speeds and the expectations of households especially at peak times. Without this there is the real possibility of some areas – particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas - falling into a digital twilight zone.Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of the LGA's People and Places Board
As things stand at this moment in time we believe there are 1.22 million premises where the only fixed line broadband option is below 10 Mbps (this latest figure includes the impact from FTTH operators such as Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, IFNL, B4RN and others, without them the figure would be 20,000 premises higher) and this will decrease more as the 95% superfast broadband target gets closer but as anyone who has looked at the maps we publish can see this is not just a rural broadband problem.
We always try to ensure when talking to anyone involved with the USO that while download speed is what people talk about most, issues like ensuring upload speeds are decent is increasingly important particularly for business use. Also while satellite broadband does have a place and can hit and exceed the download target upload speeds tend to suffer and the latency is very apparent, it certainly is not the solution that should be considered for what might be 0.75m to 1m premises.
As a safety net 10 Mbps will allow business and home users to do the key tasks, but as things evolve this is likely to prove inadequate (even if its just keeping devices up to date with firmware and software updates) and this is why there is talk of an escalator where the USO will be reviewed every few years. The problem for Government is balancing the cost of implementing a solution that will suffice for 20 to 30 years when budgets are so limited versus smaller incremental changes that stress the public purse less in the short term.
One aspect that is often overlooked is the performance of broadband connections at peak times, and with the never ending rise of online TV viewing as the biggest drive of bandwidth consumption one gets the sense of a growing anger from people who buy ever faster packages in the hope it will fix buffering or know the speed they are connecting at is well in excess of the speed needed for streaming but the buffering symbol is still a daily friend. Buffering of a HD video stream while unlikely on a 1 Gbps service is still technically possible if a provider over contends their links to where video is being served from. Broadband history is littered with providers who have done really good deals and service quality plummets, ensuring that any USO provision does not fall into this trap will prove a challenge, but is not impossible.