Forget Digital Britain it is now a Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy
The Digital Britain report back in 2009 was the summary of some years of campaigning and lobbying and even though that arose from the previous Labour Government it formed the ground work for what will be almost ten years of broadband infrastructure investment in 2017. The current Government is looking forward now to beyond 2020 and what may or may not be needed in 2025 to 2030 and how Government and regulatory policy can then be directed to try and meet various scenarios for how tightly integrated digital technology and broadband connectivity will be in our daily lives.
The Digital Communications Infrastructure Report is perhaps not the best holiday reading, but with the eight week consultation period that ends in October 2014, it will be important for stakeholders to get to grips with the report and the many questions raised, such as:
- Q6 Which countries should be our benchmarks on communications infrastructure to ensure that businesses remain in the UK and continue to invest?
- Q29 Is there a role for a revised USO or USC to ensure that minimum consumer demand requirements are met and to reduce the potential for a new digital divide? What might this look like?
The issue of the Universal Service Obligation is increasingly important, and with roll-out of more FTTP and FTTB networks, the old method where the USO only applied to KC and BT may be past its sell-by date. Some European countries have moved to enshrine broadband speeds into their USO, but the UK still only has a 0.028 Mbps (28 Kbps) basic Internet access requirement (if you have forgotten what that feels like turn off Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G on your mobile and use just GPRS for 30 minutes).
While one would expect a much more fibre rich future, the path outlined by Openreach is about pushing fibre closer to the premise but using technology to avoid the time consuming and thus expensive final bit of digging to get into every home. Of course increasing competition from Sky and TalkTalk via CityFibre and the growth of Hyperoptic and Gigaclear may see major investors at the BT Group wanting to change direction. The strategy document recognises the battle cry that full fibre is the only way to a future proof future and has the following questions on that area.
"In the context of Government intervention in the development of future infrastructure timing is important. Do we seek to build ahead of anticipated demand, a ‘build it and they will come’ approach favoured by those espousing fibre to all premises as the only future proof solution? Such an approach could stimulate growth and innovation and would position the UK as a leading digital nation, however there remain uncertainties. Alternatively, do we seek to ride the demand curve, so that services are scalable and delivered as and when demand emerges and people are willing (and able) to pay for the level of services required? Are there any benefits to being later adopters of emerging technologies that will meet user need, or is this always to be avoided if possible? Are there any actions that would deliver immediate benefits whilst underpinning future infrastructure deployment?"Extract from consultation