Last weekend Prime Minister David Cameron announced that broadband should be considered a utility and that everybody should be able to request it. He said:
“Just as our forebears effectively brought gas, electricity and water to all, we’re going to bring fast broadband to every home and business that wants it.” Good.
The digital minister Ed Vaizey gave further detail, explaining that the plan was to bring in a universal service obligation of 10Mbps for “the very hardest to reach homes and businesses.”
This is a very difficult issue to get your brain around. In the first instance whilst 10Mbps may be a huge step forward compared to what some people in rural areas might be getting today, it will still be way behind what most of the rest of us can already receive.
By the time it has been implemented, 10Mbps will be seen to be pretty slow. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Also there is no mention of upload speed. As much as anything, it is the improved upload speed that comes with superfast broadband that has revolutionised the way people use the internet. If 10Mbps = ADSL with its slow upload then that is only a partial solution.
If it is perceived that water, electricity and gas are a right, and I’m not sure that is the case – I can’t believe every rural dwelling is plumbed in for these services – I don’t think people are offered partial services for these utilities. eg you can only have some of the electricity you need, not all of it.
Why shouldn’t country bumpkins get the same broadband services as their city slicker cousins?
It will be interesting to see how this is paid for. I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect BT to have to foot the bill; my experience in working with Nottinghamshire County Council on their BDUK programme suggests that the whole subject of government subsidies is hugely complex. There are massive rolls of red tape indiscriminately (my words) applied to any project that may be perceived to have subsidies involved. I may be wrong.
Our politicians are often criticised for not understanding issues, especially those pertaining to technology and the internet. We must accept that some of these issues are difficult to grasp, especially in times where we are trying to save money, not spend it.
We are promised a consultation period in 2016 on how to achieve the promises made by the Prime Minister over the weekend. I say ok but at the same time we should be actively looking to see how UK plc gets the universal fibre to the premises that must be the long term goal.
Trefor Davies has led a varied career at the top of the internet industry in the UK. He was cofounder and CTO of Newark business broadband provider Timico during which time he was on the board of the ISP Association, Internet Telephony Service Providers Association and the SIP Forum - the global trade association of Internet Telephony providers. Tref is now on the Industrial Panel of Bangor University School of Engineering and Chairman of LONAP, one of the world's top Internet Exchange Points and has a number of business interests. You may remember him as the person who organised the pigeon versus broadband race a few years ago.