Government reveals "superfast" broadband and investment plan

The government will pledge to plough £830 million into reaching its goal of having the best broadband in Europe by 2015.

It will outline plans to give 85-90 per cent of the nation access to broadband in a scheme that it’s calling “Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future’. However, some experts have said the plan has not been thought through.

Jeremy Hunt, Culture Minister, said the aim is to have a comprehensive fibre optic backbone in place within five years. This, in theory, means that every community will at the very least have a fibre optic exchange near enough to give them faster speeds.

This is known as fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), with the existing copper wiring still coping with taking and bringing data to and from the home.

An extra £50 million (bringing a total of £830 million) will be made available for the improvements. Of the £830 million in funding revealed by Hunt, £500 million was previously announced during the spending review. The rest will come from the BBC licence fee over the next seven years. Local authorities will also be required to bid for grants to install the hubs and connections.

However, experts have said the government should concentrate on ensuring every area has access to some kind of internet, instead of concentrating on “super fast” broadband, which will only be available in the minority.  Michael Phillips of Consumer Choices also pointed out that the scheme had not “been thought out properly.”

“Clearly this is something that should be welcomed but there are a huge host of questions and concerns that need to be addressed. Firstly is the money being set aside enough to fund this?”, he told TechEye.

“The devil is in the detail, how, for example do you define an area, which is not commercially viable, so ISPs won’t invest in it, and is there enough money to be able to do this for every area?”

Previous government promises of a minimum 2Mbits/sec across the UK by 2012 have also been rolled into the 2015 initiative, which has been welcomed.

Sebastien Lahtinen, co-founder of thinkbroadband.com, said: “I am particularly pleased to see the government has acknowledged the need to align the funding of the 2Mbps Universal Service Commitment with the next-generation broadband plans as this will help to ensure rural consumers are not always lagging behind the urban population when it comes to new and innovative services which require faster speeds.”

Alex Buttle, director of broadband comparison website, Top10.com, raises concerns about implementation: “Any strategy to provide people, wherever they are, with faster and more reliable broadband speeds should be welcomed.

“There are too many broadband blackspots in Britain and broadband speeds in rural areas, we have repeatedly found, lag significantly behind urban speeds and this needs to change. [However] the challenge, as ever, lies in the implementation.

“Also, is the government setting the bar high enough? The average UK broadband speed at present is 6.86Mb, which is some way ahead of the Government’s current 2Mb target.”

Mr Philips agreed, telling TechEye: “Although it’s a good thing that the government has pledged superfast broadband by 2015, it’s also important to note that many of the technologies that need this will still be a minority.

“It’s therefore important to ensure blanket coverage of broadband rather than focus on the superfast element. While it will be nice to have HD streaming etc, it’s also important to make sure it’s put in for businesses, who are able to access this easily and drive commerce.”

The government said in a report, picked up by the Guardian: “In order to determine what constitutes ‘the best’ network in Europe, we will adopt a scorecard which will focus on four headline indicators: speed, coverage, price and choice.

“These will be made up of a number of composite measures rather than a single factor such as headline download speed.”

Rural Affairs Secretary Caroline Spelman said that rolling out superfast broadband to the countryside is “probably the single most important thing we can do to ensure the sustainability of our rural communities in the 21st century”.