Government unveils new ambition for ultrafast broadband

Government unveils new ambition for ultrafast broadband

The #Budget2015 had a few more nuggets about broadband and telecoms that previous statements with an ambition for ‘ultrafast’ broadband to nearly all premises and a new Universal Service Obligation for broadband.

In the budget, and in the Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy (DCIS) which was published alongside, the Government said that is has an ambition that ultrafast broadband of at least 100Mbps should become available to nearly all UK premises”. Obviously much depends on the detail – what is “nearly all” and when does the Government want this ambition to be realised? But this still seems to signify a significant increase on the current target of superfast broadband (24Mbit/s) by 2017.

On extending superfast broadband, the DCIS said that it would look at a mix of technologies and business models which it is currently piloting in 7 market test pilots which it funded with £10m at the 2013 Autumn Statement.

Interestingly though the Government has also said that it will look to introduce, presumably in legislation, a Universal* Service Obligation (USO) for up to 5Mbit/s broadband connection. This is significant.

Firstly it overbuilds the current Universal Service Commitment (USC) which is set at 2Mbit/s and which we are due to meet this year. More importantly there is a significant difference between a Commitment, which is essentially best efforts, and an Obligation which would mean that “consumers gain a legal right to request installation of 5Mbps capable services at an affordable price”. There will be a lot of debate about the costs of doing of upgrading and/or maintaining these connections. Of course how many homes would qualify for this depends on how many homes get access to superfast and presumably then ultrafast broadband.

There were also a number of other interesting announcements:

  • The SME Connection Vouchers Scheme was confirmed to be launching in more cities on 1 April, taking the total number to 50
  • £600m was allocated to clear the 700Mhz spectrum band (where the Digital Terrestrial Television platform – ie Freeview – currently lives) for mobile use
  • £1.1m fund to support women to take their businesses online and take advantage of superfast broadband
  • Significant push on telecoms use of the UK Guarantees Scheme – with Virgin’s recent £3bn upgrade already being pre-qualified for this
  • Funding for the Internet of Things, including demonstrator programmes

The Government also said that it will conduct a formal review of its ambitions in 2018. This is interesting as the DCIS, which at 9 pages was substantially shorter than the 68 page consultation document, was intended to look to 2025-30.

*As with most things call Universal this should more accurately be described as ‘near-Universal – there are and will be exceptions.

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