Digital Economy Bill heads for its second reading in the House of Commons
With the Digital Economy Bill set to receive its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday 13th September 2016, the Local Government Association (LGA) has issued a briefing document and we have highlighted the key elements of the bill, most of which our readers will be very familiar with.
- Broadband USO - the 10 Mbps minimum speed guarantee. The LGA highlights the need for the 10 Mbps safety net to keep pace with technology and that the USO should not just focus on the download metric but other aspects such as latency and upload speeds with a call for a minimum of 2 Mbps upload speed when the USO is launched.
- Broadband compensation - automatic compensation for faults or periods of poor service may be on the way. How this will operate and the level of compensation is not known yet and as with other compensation cultures it may simply be that providers raise prices to compensate for refunds. Identifying problem periods for a user will be an area for lots of argument, at the simplest level someones connection may be slow due to something they have done in the home, or wireless interference from outside the property might be impacting Wi-Fi/4G/Fixed Wireless service speeds with these outside the providers control.
- Switching providers - switching broadband and phone packages are already pretty simple, but Ofcom and the Digital Economy Bill is working towards the holy grail of a unified switching process. What this delivers will be interesting as it could drive the bundle market, or it could rip it apart and mean that products are not cross subsidising each other and each product has to be able to stand on its.
- New powers for Ofcom to acquire speed test information for individual premises from providers. Ofcom periodically releases speed data that is based on connection speed information from providers, but this is generally only to the postcode level. If Ofcom can be empowered to get access to premise level data the hope is that comparison sites and analysis of what is available in the UK can be done at a much more granular level, i.e. the 29 million premises rather than 1.7 million postcodes.
The new data set on broadband speeds is clearly of great interest to us, because we have built our own coverage model and also do lots of analytics on our extensive broadband speed test results. For individuals premise level results as an open dataset from Ofcom would be very useful, but caveats around how data is made available, how up to date it is and what use is allowed of the data will be critical. Also with our experience helping people on our user forums, it is clear that many people still have issues affecting their broadband speed that may label a property as slow but this is just because they are using a poor quality telephone extension and thus are not getting the best from their line. The biggest elephant in the room is that for ADSL/ADSL2+/VDSL2 and fixed wireless services you don't really know what connection speed a premise will receive until it is live too, so even if Openreach and others were forced to release connection speed estimates we know from helping our visitors that even the Openreach data at the premise level is not 100% accurate.
One aspect of broadband technology often overlooked is that if you switch between VDSL2 providers there should be no major difference in connection speed (sometimes choice of modem can affect connection speeds), what does vary though is the quality of the Wi-Fi access provided by hardware and the difference between peak and off-peak speeds. As the variations seen by Virgin Media users attest to, even if you are on a fixed connection speed medium you will not always hit the speeds shown on the tin, and the same applies for Fibre to the Home based services.