Digital Britain’s proposals for funding next generation broadband access have distracted from the end result, writes Julian Clover.
Poor granny, she’s decided that she’ll stick with her fixed line phone, and now the government says she’ll have to fund the rollout of broadband for the new fangled webby.
That’s not strictly what the Digital Britain Report says, but there has to be a dollop of irony in a scheme that places a levy on a service used principally by the old to fund one for the young. The 50p per month proposal is designed to fund the rollout of so-called high speed broadband to areas where it would otherwise be uneconomic for the commercial sector to venture.
The miserly 2 Mbps is the proposed speed for these, and while you have to start somewhere, on its own it doesn’t address the digital divide. Such a speed may allow easy access to government services and the streaming of video, but don’t expect the same on demand libraries in the country as can be found in the town.
There are of course pockets within towns that fall within the 11% of the UK presently unable to receive a broadband speed of 2 Mbps or above through cable, ADSL or wireless services. Digital Britain says that for 1.9 million of these homes the problem is with problematic home wiring – I write from personal experience having cursed my broadband provider for a month last year only to work out the issue was actually the router. Another 300,000 are the unfortunate recipients of ‘random network effects’. The final 550,000 problem cases are where the telephone line is too long, where the customer’s premises being too far from the exchange.
Solving these issues are relatively straightforward, assuming the money can be found to fund the projects. 800,000 of those with home wiring issues could be upgraded by a market-led self-help scheme; another 1.1 million by a Universal Service Commitment, and 420,000 by an upgrade to fibre-to-the-home. Satellite broadband and mobile services could mop up the
It is wrong to characterise the Digital Britain as recommending a 2 Mbps universal speed. The report looks at other markets, Finland, Germany, the United States and Australia where next generation access is also a priority. 2 Mbps is nothing more than an immediate, and arguably easily attainable, target. The next stage is to get the Next Generation Speeds into UK homes by 2017. Here the headline figure appears to be 50 Mbps with a view to getting in 90% of coverage. This is where the 50p levy comes into play.
We can argue about whether 50 Mbps is enough, and compare the speeds that are being talked about on this site in other European markets, those that have UPC’s Fiber Power rather than that of Virgin Media or BT. By the time we get to 2017 there will be further services to get down the pipe, but equally the means to compress them further. It looks like Granny will get TV over the internet after all.