Tag: jeremy hunt

British government cuts broadband "red tape"

The government has announced plans to fast track high speed broadband rollout, while UK citizens express a lack of confidence in promises to offer Europe’s fastest broadband by 2015.

Newly appointed culture secretary Maria Miller made promises today to cut red tape in order to enable the swift rollout of high speed broadband. 

“Superfast broadband is vital to secure our country’s future – to kick start economic growth and create jobs,” Miller said of the government’s plans to invest £680 million in broadband infrastructure. 

“We are putting in the essential infrastructure that will make UK businesses competitive, and sweeping away the red tape that is a barrier to economic recovery,” shesaid.

Measures to aid faster deployment of high speed broadband include the ability to install broadband cabinets in streets without the need for council approval, as well as reduced bureaucracy in laying street cables and under private land.

Prime Minister David Cameron stated that superfast broadband is “an essential building block of a growing economy, so we are cutting the red tape”.

In a Coalition cabinet reshuffle earlier this week Conservative Maria Miller was appointed at the helm of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and received backing from the prime minister to prioritise the roll out of high speed broadband. 

“I want the culture department rolling out broadband…This is a Government who mean business, and we have got the team to deliver it,” the Cameron said in parliament earlier this week.

The drive to attain the best broadband speeds marks a departure from earlier plans by former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt to deliver the “best” broadband network in Europe, formerly stating that “Our goal is simple: within this parliament we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe”. 

Hunt said last month that the onus would now be on supplying the “fastest” broadband instead, claiming that “to be the best you need to be the fastest”.

Plans to upgrade broadband infrastructure involve increasing the rollout of fibre to the cabinet broadband, aiming for “headline access speed of greater than 24 Mbps, with no upper limit”, according to Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) minister Ed Vaizey.

However, according to a survey from thinkbroadband.com, 83 percent of 1,100 survey respondents in the UK think that plans to rollout the fastest broadband in Europe are unlikely to be achieved, with only five percent having faith in the government delivering on promises to achieve this.

Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband.com, said that there is little optimism that the government can achieve its aims.

“The results illustrate that broadband users seek higher speeds but are not optimistic, with confidence in the government’s plans at an all time low,” Ferguson said. “The new culture secretary should take note of this and ensure they keep on track with the ambitious plans or risk lowering public confidence even further.”

Ferguson said that with Hunt out of the frame, the question now is whether his replacement, Maria Miller, will support his “bold goal”. 

He added that, with current UK broadband speeds lagging behind the rest of Europe, the government will need to propel the UK from the bottom of the pile “to the top of the broadband charts”.

Jeremy Hunt pushes broadband need for speed

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised that the UK will have the fastest broadband network of anywhere in Europe by 2015.

The lofty commitment was announced in east London today, where Hunt told broadband industry experts that to be the best, you “need to be the fastest”, the Guardian reports. He said the announcement is not just about being the best overall but to be the best in fast broadband of any “major” European country, although we “may already be there”.

Labour responded by claiming the statement was one-sided, focusing on speed rather than access.

The announcement was met with mixed reactions from some of the UK’s broadband experts. Julia Stent, at uSwitch.com, welcomed Hunt’s enthusiasm but warned that there is still a good way to go before the UK is where it needs to be. Three in ten postcodes, according to uSwitch data, have broadband download speeds under 3 Mbps. One in five UK postcodes still suffer from broadband speeds of under 2 Mbps.

“The danger is that the culture secretary’s tunnel-vision emphasis on average speed addresses levels of demand from consumers and businesses for faster connections,” Stent said, “but doesn’t take rural areas into account”. Stent warns that many areas still do not have good coverage, and despite being in the age of fibre optics, they are “pitifully slow”.

Indeed, it was recently announced that the town of Chipping Norton in West Oxfordshire was to get fast broadband access through Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) technology, courtesy of Cotsolds Broadband – the likes of which can provide the web to communities outside of urban centres.

Earlier this year, the government was slammed for scrapping the Communications Green Paper, which specifically wanted to address maximising value of broadband spectrum. At the time, Shadow Minister Helen Goodman told TechEye that scrapping the consultation shone a light on the Coalition’s lack of direction in communications policy.

The Lords communications committee report, meanwhile, recently suggested that the Coalition’s plans are misguided. “The delivery of certain speeds should not be the guiding principle; what is important is the long term assurance that as new internet applications emerge, everyone will be able to benefit, from inhabitants of inner cities to the remotest areas of the UK,” it said.

Coalition slammed for scrapping Communications Bill consultation

Ministers have decided to scrap the Communications Green Paper, leading to criticisms over a lack of “coherent strategy” from shadow minister Helen Goodman.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport had intended to publish a Green Paper to highlight policy plans ahead of a bill being debated in Parliament.

It had previously been expected that the Green Paper would arrive during spring this year, allowing for a consultation ahead of a White Paper which would form the basis of the proposals.

However, DCMS announced that the Green Paper has now been ditched, and will be replaced with five seminars to discuss a series of proposals.

This will include maximising the value of broadband spectrum, looking at competition in the content market and investing in the television sector, and will inform a White Paper scheduled for early 2013.  A full bill is promised before the end of this parliament.

According to a statement from Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt there is “no need for a complete overhaul” of policy, as he highlighted intentions to place the UK as Europe’s “technology hub”. 

TechEye understands that there was mounting pressure that the Green Paper would be too lightweight, and this may have contributed to the Green Paper being scrapped. 

There has also been speculation that Hunt’s role in the Leveson Inquiry has been a distraction from the Communications Bill.

Shadow Minister Helen Goodman told TechEye that the decision to scrap bill shows a lack of direction for communications policy.

“This is absolutely pathetic,” Goodman said. “It is because they have got no coherent strategy for communications in this country.”

“Jeremy Hunt has not put his mind to it because he has been completely focused watching his back at the Leveson inquiry,” Goodman said.  

Goodman believes that without more comprehensive consultation on the Green Paper, the communications industry will struggle to boost the UK’s economy.

“It is a complete disgrace that he can’t get his act together to put forward a proper Green Paper that will give people – beyond people invited to the seminar – the opportunity to contribute to policy  formation in an area which is vital for the economy, and vital for the quality of our cultural life,” Goodman said.

UK cities expected to go it alone for better broadband

The full list of cities which will be eligible to bid for ‘super-connected’ broadband funding has been announced, though experts believe the cash could make little difference to many UK cities.

Following an announcement that the four capital cities in the UK will be awarded part of a £100 million high speed broadband fund, a further list of cities has revealed who will scrap it out for broadband cash.

Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield have all been given the green light to put a bid in to grab the remaining funds and become part of the ‘super-connected’ project.

As part of a drive to kickstart the flailing UK economy, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is now taking bids from cities which can plead the best case for getting the funds.   This will involve explaining how they will use the 80-100 Mbps speeds to push growth.  The internet will be supplied by BT and Virgin.

The competition means that some will lose out on the cash, but it does seem to make it easier to allocate the funding more prudently.  Industry experts believe that question marks remain over the ability to make a difference to ten cities considering the amount on the table.

 “When the original announcement was made, we did wonder how the scheme would work,” said Andrew Ferguson at thinkbroadband.com.   “By limiting it to four pre-selected capital cities, and six out of the ten cities only going to win, then we do at least have an idea of how far the fund will have to spread.”

He points out that many cities are already approaching existing targets for 2015, such as Cardiff, though it could be that such steps were made prior to any knowledge of further funding.

“Most cities were working towards improving broadband,” Ferguson told TechEye, “though it is unclear whether some of these projects were going ahead with the prior information that some government funding may be available.”

Ferguson thinks the amount on offer is scant compared to the scale of the task in upgrading broadband systems. On its own, it’s not enough, he thinks. “But with careful targeting to the worst served areas of each city, it will make a difference.”

Nor will it create a super connected city, like the visions inspired by South Korea and Japan. “The best we can expect,” Ferguson says, “is that it will ensure that inside the ten cities broadband at speeds well above the 2 Mbps USC will be available everywhere.”

He believes that with scant funding available to support broadband, with other infrastructure sectors such as rail and roads gaining priority, cities may well be better off going it alone.

“One key aspect is that the cities are expected to raise their own funds, and as such there is nothing stopping any city in the UK going it alone, and ignoring this fund,” Ferguson says. “In terms of speed of roll-out of the actual improvements this may be a better approach, and the Superfast Cornwall project is a prime example – they started well before the BDUK scheme was underway.”

Jeremy Hunt calls for end to legal action over 4G auction

A leaked speech has shown that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will push mobile operators to stay away from legal action over the 4G auction process.

Following a recent announcement that Ofcom will push back the auction process to mid 2012 as it continues to work on auction terms, Hunt has urged operators to stop squabbling and get on with it.

The speech demands that “we press on as quickly as possible with the 4G auction”, mentioning that Sweden and other European nations have completed their own bidding processes a long time ago.

It is said that Hunt will argue that any delays to the issuing of 4G licenses will not be in the “national interest”, and warn mobile operators away from litigation.

Hunt will demand mobile phone operators “put aside competitive differences” and “work together… to make this happen”, writes the Telegraph.

A host of mobile operators have been dragging their feet over the process, with legal threats ranging from the thinly veiled to threatening to bring the matter to an EU court as O2 has done.

But as MPs have highlighted the delays are getting ridiculous, and are likely to cost the country millions of pounds.

Interestingly though the government has been reticent to actually stick its neck out and get involved. Though Hunt has not advocated any legislative measures be taken against mobile operators to ensure that the auction goes ahead, it does appear to be a significantly more forceful demand top get the ball rolling.

So attempting to tackle the subject head on at the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention is certainly an step up from DCMS ministers fielding questions in Parliament on the subject.

Indeed up until this point DCMS has been very happy to downplay its role to us and keep the focus on Ofcom. In fact DCMS has told us repeatedly that this is “not something for us to be involved in” so we reckon this seems like something of a change of heart.

We approached O2, one of the firms which has made legal threats in the past, for a response to the Minister’s speech. O2 was did not want to comment directly on Hunt’s speech but highlighted that there were still certain of Ofcom’s proposals which it does not agree with.

“There were elements of the Ofcom’s initial proposals that we support and other elements where we believe Ofcom needs to simplify,” we were told in a statement.

“This is still part of the consultation process and we are currently waiting for Ofcom’s views on the number of responses they received earlier this year.”

“At this stage we see no reason why a successful auction cannot be delivered next year as planned.”

MP calls for government to intervene in 4G auction process

The 4G auctioning fiasco rumbles on as threats of a costly delay go unheeded in the wake of O2’s spectrum outburst.

Following a vitriolic statement from O2 recently about regulator Ofcom’s stance on the auctioning process for the new generation of mobile broadband, tech-savvy Labour MP Tom Watson asked in a Commons Debate yesterday whether the government would ensure that the process did not run over.

Watson highlighted a recent letter to the Department for Culture, Media and Sports Minister Jeremy Hunt which warned of a “potential loss to the Exchequer of £316 million” because of the “delay to the spectrum auction”.

Watson then went on to ask whether Hunt would ensure that the long awaited 4G network would not be further delayed:

“Given that O2 is threatening legal action against Ofcom that could further delay the auction, will he consider using his powers under wireless and telephony legislation to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later?” he said.

The DCMS minister then went on to reply that the government is “absolutely committed to proceeding with the spectrum auctions as soon as possible”, adding that it will “do everything necessary to make that happen”.

However despite Hunt’s earnest proclamations it seems that there is little being done in reality to ensure that the process runs smoothly.

TechEye spoke to DCMS, which told us that the auction process is “not for us to be involved in” despite growing urgency being felt on the issue.

“The rules are a matter for Ofcom,” a spokesperson said.  “O2 is making noises while the [auction process] consultation is going on, and everybody has a chance to voice their opinion.”

It was not ruled out that the legislation mentioned by Tom Watson would be used following the publication of the consultation.

Ofcom was also reticent to talk of delays to the process following O2’s serious allegations of breaking EU law with its use of ‘spectrum floors’ which the mobile operator contend will see it lose out financially.

“Our timetable hasn’t changed,” Ofcom told us. “We are keen that the process continues as soon as possible so that it can be put to good use.”

“The process has been going on for some time and it is difficult to keep everybody happy.”

Meanwhile O2 stated that it does not want to see the process spill over due to opposition with Ofcom, with a spokesperson stating that “we absolutely don’t want to have a delay to the process.”

O2 was unwilling to discuss the potential for governmental intervention when asked.

Hunt's need for speed makes him wear broadband blinkers

Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary in the UK, announced today that there are plans to have the “best superfast broadband network in Europe” by 2015. But how realistic are his goals – and are they as forward-thinking as they need to be?

Hunt defined super-fast broadband, to him and the Coalition government, as at least 25Mbps. He wants to have that speed rolled out to 90 percent of the UK by 2015. Hunt and the government will face a huge challenge: replacing infrastructure in heavily developed areas is no mean feat. And by the time it’s there – who is to say it won’t be redundant?

The UK is already behind on infrastructure, hence the plans. Global ratings place us behind plenty of other countries in and out of the EU – which is bizarre for a country which relies so heavily on digital and e-commerce. While our cousins across the pond are already enjoying a kind of 4G, though purists will disagree, our contract plans still offer us guff in advertorial as if it’s the best thing in the world.

A trip to any conference showcasing future tech will dishearten a British citizen, both delighted and frustrated at the same time about the developments in the pipeline. And how long they’ll take to reach us.

So is it wise to put all of our eggs in this barely-defined superfast basket? According to Alex Buttle, of Top10.com, possibly not. The lofty goals for speedier internet should be encouraged, but he “would not envy anyone trying to do that job.”

It can be done. But it could also be a politician’s wizard wheeze to encourage the digital-thinking Briton. 

“It’s a long time, we’re talking years away, but basically the infrastructure could be there to deliver it,” Buttle tells us. “It can be done, but the fact is that broadband isn’t reliable. There are always exchange and cabling problems.

“But it is such a local product, and there are such differentials in speed from street to street, it’d be hard to say it’ll be there for everyone by 2015.

“The averages might come out healthy, but I’d be impressed if they managed to nail it because of the scale of the infrastructure.”

It’s a lot of work. We’re talking industrial-scale power digging up the roads and re-cabling in developed areas. With cabling, you have to physically dig up concrete. There’s a lot of that in the United Kingdom, as Milton Keynes will tell you.

When we asked Buttle about the relevancy of starting the long-term project when the technology space advances so quickly, he told us: “The kind of reports that have been commissioned are for fixed line broadband, but obviously there is not that 4G network in place.” 

Wouldn’t it make sense to focus on high-speed wireless infrastructure? “We are moving towards a wireless world on smartphones and with tablets,” Buttle agrees. “Is there enough investment for LTE and 4G? The argument is there probably isn’t.”

Broadband comparison service Top10 suggests that download speeds of 20Mb are super-fast but only 9.6 percent of its consumers tested rate higher than 20Mb, while, it says, the average UK download speed is 8.14Mb.

Hunt’s goal is formidable – and time will tell whether the stiff wager will provide the kind of returns the UK deserves to be truly competitive. 

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”.

UK tech heavyweights send Ed Vaizey open letter on open internet

Tech heavyweights and supporters of the British open internet have signed a joint letter addressed to Ed Vaizey, MP, following his u-turn on net neutrality. Rather than slice up policy for big business to decide, he has pledged that the UK will preserve and support access to the open internet.

The letter calls on the Minister for Culture to put in place five key rules to safeguard the government’s commitment to open internet. These are:

1. The Internet should remain open so that everyone is able to send and receive the content, use the services and run the applications of their choice, on the device of their choice, within the law.

2. Traffic management should be kept to a minimum, and deployed for purely technical, security or legal reasons. There should be no discrimination in the treatment of Internet traffic, based on device, or the origin and/or destination of the content, service or application.

3. Meaningful information about any traffic management practices must be made available to all stakeholders, end users and businesses who rely on broadband infrastructure to reach their customers.

4. Future investment in network capacity and underlying infrastructure must take place in a way that is consistent with the end-to-end principle and where new models of Internet access do not compromise openness.

5. For competitive markets to function effectively, the regulatory framework must be fit for purpose and able to respond to abuses by network providers.

The letter is signed by Coadec, Ariadne Capital, Consumer Focus, eBay, Eden Ventures, Imrg, the National Union of Journalists, the Open Rights Group, Oxford University, Reevoo, Skype, TechHub, Truphone, The Filter, we7, Which? and Yahoo Europe.

It calls on the UK government to pen in more details to ensure no further u-turns. With big business seeking to press monopolies, naming no names, TechEye believes Vaizey and Co. should take heed. As has been underlined by MPs themselves, Britain’s online economy is worth a staggering £100 billion. Keen to encourage growth, MPs along with UK Trade and Investment have put plans in place for the East London Tech City, a proposed creative and economic centre for digital evolution and technology in the United Kingdom.

But with the Tech City receiving investment and advisory from reknowned alleged monopolisers such as Intel and Google, as well as alleged tax evasion telco Vodafone, how far can we trust any commitments? The question remains, are contract winners to the UK government – Vodafone and Virgin both maintain contracts in the public sector – favoured behind closed doors? And can we trust what our politicians say? The British culture of political mistrust exists for a reason. The fact is, it’s fair to say most trust the official line as far as they can throw Eric Pickles. 

That’s why the letter calls for further detail: the UK government must protect open internet through “judicious implementation of the new EU legislation for electronic communications.” It also advises Ofcom, the regulatory body, to “closely monitor the market and demonstrate that effective and timely enforcement processes are in place to respond to complaints about unfair discrimination from any affected stakeholder”.

The Coalition must keep a close eye on Britain’s ISPs, which are advised to develop “meaningful self-regulation to ensure fair principals on traffic management”. Ofcom’s upcoming switch review should deliver “real benefits to broaadband subscribers in terms of their ability to change providers, and drive meaningful choice between broadband packages.”

And lastly, arguably most importantly, the open letter looks toward healthy competitiveness. It says the government must: “Conduct a wide-ranging policy debate about this crucial subject for the future competitiveness of the UK’s economy and well-being of UK society, and adopting a joined-up approach in policy making, by assessing long-term implications of traffic management practices and the maintenance of an open Internet for the economy, for consumers and citizen’s interests, including freedom of expression, access to public services and digital inclusion.”

The letter is also adressed to the permanently surprised Secretary of State for Culture Jeremy Hunt and Dr Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. 

In November, Ed Vaizey openly backed a “two speed” internet which would  allow ISPs to experiment with traffic management, effectively spitting in the face of net neutrality.  

Since, it appears, he has come to his senses.

But even with pressure from this open letter and others, it remains to be seen if we’ll keep our open internet – and if businesses with the most dosh are favoured through the backdoor rather than the front of No. 10.