More calls for broadband Universal Service Obligation
The UK telecoms regulator Ofcom and the UK Government has consistently resisted implementing some form of Universal Service Obligation for broadband, instead relying on a weaker Universal Service Commitment of 2 Mbps to be implemented by 2015. The Country Land & Business Association has published a statement indicating its view on this and other broadband policies.
"The CLA has been instrumental in lobbying the infrastructure providers to offer a basic broadband service for all. It has taken the lead in lobbying government to provide public funds for the roll-out of a superfast broadband network as well as pushing for a Universal Service Obligation (USO) to ensure that all in rural areas have access to a minimum speed of two megabits per second (Mbps).
However, the Government’s strategy is not making the inroads it needs to meet its objective of ensuring that the UK has the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. The process appears slow, cumbersome and excessively mired in red tape.
In addition, there appears to be no clear direction as to how the various broadband technologies are to be deployed. Should there be a sole reliance on fibre optic or is there room for a mixture of technologies, a patchwork so to speak, which can be deployed to meet differing circumstances and different locations?"Extract from CLA Statement on Broadband Fit for Rural Growth
Four key areas are addressed by the statement, with these being:
- Universal Coverage: The CLA would like a USO framework to be in place by 2015
- Competition within the bidding process: CLA would like to see penalties for failing to meet time and coverage requirements in broadband rollout contracts.
- Strategic alliances: The CLA would like various like-minded trade associations to work together, to bring broadband to all.
- The Future Needs of Rural Areas: The CLA takes the line that current frameworks are not working for the most rural parts of the UK.
The issue of a Universal Service Obligation is raised every few months, and has been dismissed just as many times. The difficulty facing those in power to force a USO on the market, is how to ensure that a USO does not actually distort the market, while at the same time ensuring the public and business do not have a complicated situation, where one district has an Openreach USO, another a Fujitsu one and yet another a USO via a fixed wireless provider.
The concept of piggy backing onto the fibre networks that serve council premises and schools is explored, and while this offers some potential, the most rural parts of the UK have very little in the way of public infrastructure, with long drives or bus trips to the nearest school or council office. It is this final 2 or 3% where the desire for competition versus delivery of service are often conflicting interests.
Interestingly the CLA does not have a firm commitment to fibre being needed in rural areas, suggesting that perhaps a more patchwork model of connectivity utilising fixed wireless and satellite services seems to be favoured. The question really is how many of those businesses in broadband not-spots have actually considered the widely available satellite solutions.
The biggest issue and is rarely explored by those calling for different frameworks, is how different these actually would be once implemented. For example if contracts under a new framework carried punitive penalties for failing to meet a delivery target, the immediate effect would be shrink the potential number of bidders down to one or two, in a similar fashion to how the need to invest millions of pounds per local authority area under the existing BDUK framework. There is scope for learning from the problems with the BDUK framework, and ensuring they are not repeated on a small scale with the RCBF money, and with over two thirds of our visitors supporting calls for an investigation into the lack of competition in the BDUK process there seems to be support for this.
The doubts in the BDUK processes are not likely to change the Governments position, and even if it did, there would be another year or more of debate and consultation to determine the next framework, unless a tyrannical approach was taken. With the way the BDUK projects operate, they do not preclude competing commercial operators rolling out a service to an area, or a community building its own service.