Did the UK government just announce the biggest leap in broadband?
Shortly after coming into power the coalition government shifted the implementation date for the 2Mbps Universal Service Commitment from 2012 to 2015 in a move that upset broadband campaigners. The first Budget for the current government allocated £300m from the television license fee to the £230m already set aside from the surplus left in the digital switchover fund, and the option for a further £300m in the two years from 2015 to 2017 as required.
Current plans for next generation broadband should see two thirds of UK households receiving super-fast broadband with no government intervention with the 'final third' requiring additional funding assistance. It has been estimated that the cost of covering the remaining third with a fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) solution is between £2-3bn.
This morning, the government is announcing its strategy for addressing those gaps by combining public money and the concept of the 'big society' as a call to arms for communities to get involved. It is worth pointing out that at present this is still a plan, but we think it's nevertheless something to be excited about.
The announcements today cover a number of key areas:
- Acknowledgement rural consumers should benefit from super-fast broadband "at the same time as more populated areas"
- Funding of £530m available over life of the current parliament to help 'final third'
- Align funding of 'universal service commitment' with next generation rollout
- Use public sector procurement to advance broadband rollout where necessary.
- New specification for new build homes to encourage developers and housebuilders to build super-fast-broadband-ready homes
- Establishment of a 'digital village pump' (term used by broadband campaigners) to establish central point for delivery of fibre in remote areas
- No changes planned to rating of fibre-optic networks (fibre tax)
- Commitment to working with BT to open ducts and poles to rivals
- Working with local authorities to reduce roll-out costs (guidance on street works and micro-trenching)
- Awarding 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum for next generation mobile services
"The Government is committed to ensuring the rapid rollout of superfast broadband across the country. Rural and remote areas of the country should benefit from this infrastructure upgrade at the same time as more populated areas, ensuring that an acceptable level of broadband is delivered to those parts of the country that are currently excluded. [..]
Our aim is to ensure every community has a point to which fibre is delivered, capable of allowing the end connection to the consumer to be upgraded – either by communities themselves, or since this will make the business case more viable, industry itself might choose to extend the network to the premise."Britain's Superfast Broadband Future, BIS/DCMS
Following on from the four BDUK trial roll-outs, a second wave of pilots with funding of up to £50m will take place. The areas will be selected from those which submit proposals in April 2011, with funding arriving in May 2011.
The buzz word today though is the 'Digital Hub' which will be a fibre supplying broadband to a single point in every community around the UK where commercial roll-outs have not provided some form of next generation access, which many campaigners have called 'the digital village pump'. This hub is described as being linked back to the nearest exchange, where onward connectivity should be available to existing backhaul networks. How the network is extended from this hub to individual premises is unclear, but more detail is expected to become available. What is known however, is that this 'last mile' link may use various different technologies from fibre or copper to wireless solutions. Satellite has not been ruled out for the most remote of communities.
As part of the broadband strategy, the government will use a framework to compare how well the UK is performing against other European countries. This will examine actual as well as headline speeds, coverage, price and choice of suppliers.
This announcement is certainly a welcome sign the UK government appreciates the importance of super-fast broadband being available to everyone, and we look forward to seeing more details on the trials.