Broadband speed evidence given to parliament inquiry
The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has heard evidence on broadband speeds, the live feed was online at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/.
The list of parties presenting evidence is fairly short comprising, BT, Vtesse, TalkTalk and Avanti, with a further group of four at 5pm, Commission for Rural Communities, Consumer Focus, Intellect and IT Support Line Ltd. The topics being examined are:
- whether the target for universal access to broadband at a speed of 2Mb/s by 2012 is ambitious enough
- is the Government right to propose a levy on copper lines to fund next generation access?
- will the Government's plans for next generation access work?
- if companies are providing the speed of access which they promise to consumers
- the extent to which current regulation strikes the right balance between ensuring fair competition and encouraging investment in next generation networks
In following the committee meeting it was a case of nothing new was stated by any parties involved, but by presenting it to the committee what they have said has gone on the record, and may help to influence areas like the Universal Service Commitment and the Final Third Fund.
On the Universal Service Commitment (USC) there was a general agreement that the 2Mbps target for 2012 was achievable and that it provided a reasonable base line. The BT representative did highlight the need for the USC when defined to have a range of other parameters defined, for example what expectations for peak time performance are to be set, since this carries cost and technology implications.
The 50p levy was not seen as a good idea by Andrew Heany from TalkTalk, but BT said in principle was in favour of some public money being used to service areas where commercial operators will not provide adequate service.
In terms of other comments made, Vtesse (in partnership with Virgin Media for their FTTC trial) mentioned that there is a need for lower pricing in connecting the smaller clusters of communities, as this is currently the biggest barrier for those villages of perhaps 500 homes. The use of satellite for the USC was covered and the Avanti spokesman was understandably keen to push his services capabilities, pointing out that they will be able to support 150,000 UK customers once they announce their service, with speed options of up to 10Mbps.
The key thing really is that no-one was able to name any one application beyond demand for video as a driver for faster broadband roll-out. For governments the key driver at this time will be the savings possible through people being able to fill in forms online, rather than having to travel and occupy a civil servants time. Comments were made that crystal ball gazing is very hard, and back in 2000/2001 it was thought commercial broadband would only reach around 30-40% of the country.
For those people who comment saying things like 'but South Korea has 100Meg everywhere now', the comments from those attending can be summarised as yes they have this capability, but they are doing roughly the same as what we in the UK are doing, and possibly the level the film piracy in South Korea is doing damage to the economy.
Alas the stream appeared to stop working at around 5pm (appears to be a stream issue and not a local broadband issue), which was when TalkTalk was saying that "it is far early to say where the market will be in a few years". One snippet is that they have not finished their LLU roll-out and are looking at 90% coverage at some point in 2010.
In summary we would say the following, expect a 2Meg USC by 2012, but for those in outlying areas, e.g. isolated farm houses or clusters of half a dozen buildings, satellite based access may form the USC service. The business case for government money to build next generation networks outside of commercially viable areas looks a little rocky, perhaps it would be best to start with the hardest areas spending the money where commercial firms agree they will never go, and then meet in the middle somewhere.