Government response Rural Affairs Report on Broadband
The Government has officially responded to a Rural Affairs Committee report that was published in February 2015. The response can be read in full online and the response is short enough that even those with slow broadband should manage to access the page.
The response is largely a summary of what the Chancellor in his Budget, the DCMS and Ed Vaizey MP have been saying in the last week.
- The Government is committed to ensuring 90% coverage of superfast broadband by early 2016 and 95% coverage by December 2017. The National Audit Office memorandum of 28 January 2015 confirmed we are on track to achieve these targets. In addition we will deliver a universal service commitment to give all remaining premises access to speeds of at least 2Mbps by the end of 2015.
- The Government has no plans to change the 2Mbps universal service commitment for delivery by the end of 2015. However, many of the premises which are not yet scheduled to gain access to superfast broadband will have speeds higher than 2Mbps.
- The Government is looking to raise the Universal Service Obligation from dial-up speeds to 5 Mbps to ensure that no one is left behind as faster speeds become available and are more widely used. The Government will consult on this change early in the next Parliament.
- The Government's definition of 24Mbps for superfast broadband is based on the fact that speeds above this level can only be delivered using Next Generation Access technology. The European definition of 30Mbps has no specific technical or user basis for it. Most premises which can receive speeds over 24Mbps will also be able to receive speeds above the level of the European definition. The Government's rollout is future proofed. It is a requirement of the broadband framework contract that solutions have an upgrade path; for example, fibre to the cabinet could be upgraded to fibre to the premises if needed.
- As a condition of their funding for the phase two projects, local authorities will be required to provide public information on roll-out plans to 7 digit postcode level. Publishing information to address level runs the risk of being misleading given the uncertainties involved before deployment takes place.
- The Government is currently developing its plans for delivery of its commitment that all premises will have access to standard broadband with speeds of at least 2Mbps by the end of 2015. Within this, eligible premises will have access to satellite services which can provide superfast broadband speeds.
While it is natural for the Rural Affairs Committee to take a rural view on the UK broadband situation, the BDUK project no matter how many times it is called rural was never JUST a rural project. It would only be that is 1/3 of UK premises were rural, and they are not only around 20% are rural. So since the original target of 90% superfast was announced, it should have been clear that the harder and more costly rural areas to reach would be missed out.
Point 4 from our summary is interesting, as while many will assume this is talking about fibre on demand only, it is referring to the fact that the standard deployment for a fibre cabinet means that the fibre support infrastructure to support a future FTTH or G.fast roll-out has made it from the exchange to near to the cabinet. Or put another way, Openreach has gone from fibre in around 5,500 exchanges to fibre to around 62,500 nodes. So while VDSL2 may be a medium term solution the ground work for a large FTTP roll-out has started, but the softly measured approach of the BT Group means no commitments beyond the current G.fast plans announced.
The vocal farming lobby was perhaps slightly assuaged recently when the Rural Payments Agency plans were scaled back and options to drop paperwork off at 50 drop-in centres put in place, citing problems with getting the mapping software by Kainos to work properly in the £154 million digital service. The talk about the system has been a mixture of failed software upgrades and software module integration along with concerns over those farms that have slow broadband not being to able interact easily with what going to be a complex system.