England hits the 90% superfast coverage milestone
The BDUK process that stared life in 2009/2010 under the auspices of the then Labour Government and was then fleshed out by the Conservatives with help from the LibDems in 2010-2015 has not always been the most popular policy but the roll-outs are delivering improvements and today sees the news that our tracking is showing that 90% of English premises now have the option of ordering a 24 Mbps or faster service from the main fixed line providers, e.g. Openreach, Virgin Media and KC.
Of course 90% means that 1 in 10 are still missing out, but some of those will be receiving improved speeds from the VDSL2 heavy roll-out. This milestone does not mean the job is done over at the DCMS/BDUK as the promise was for 90% of the UK. The further 1.2% of improved coverage is needed before we can declare the UK goal met and based on current roll-out rates this is likely to be in March 2016.
The BDUK process is frequently attacked over its failure to provide superfast broadband for all the rural areas of the UK, but with a goal of 90% superfast coverage and a limited pot of money, even back in 2012 it should have been obvious that rather than going for the hardest to deal with areas that the pressures of roll-out speed and value for money meant that the bulk would not be isolated farm houses, but rather than peri-urban and large villages. That is not to say that we have not seem farms and remote business parks benefit, lots are but there are still those waiting for the roll-out to reach them.
The patchwork image of England shows that the coverage is far from uniform and in each constituency there is wide variations, but even so things are considerable better than when the first BDUK cabinet was delivered in December 2012 and England had a superfast coverage figure of 70.5%.
The first comments are usually that the collective BDUK project is late, i.e. missed its May 2015 deadline and also the end of 2015 deadline too, and while this is true when you consider it is an infrastructure project not delivering a decade late and at price several times the original cost it has to be seen as having done something right.
One of the areas that pops out at your from the map of England is the dark area of North Herefordshire and once you delve deeper into the detail for North Herefordshire the underserved areas are clearer. The census areas used vary in geographic size to keep them fairly consistent in terms of population and households, so the dense urban areas will be much smaller in size.
Given the low coverage levels in North Herefordshire it is no surprise to see the Q4 2015 speed test analysis showing slow speeds for the northern part of the county too. We would love to be able to say things are going to improve very soon but the historical trend for North Herefordshire is still fairly flat.
A final word, the roll-outs in not just England, but also in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are at the point of extra infill cabinets and plenty of exchange only lines are being upgraded to have FTTC or for some FTTP available so even if you thought the projects were going to pass you by it is worth checking every now and then to see if you got lucky. The more people that upgrade to the services also means the larger the clawback revenue will be in the future and this will either be used to increase the roll-out or if an area hits 100% money will get handed back.