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Targets for broadband realistic?

By Neil Watson, head of service at Entanet in Telford

Last month we learned that the seemingly ever-changing Digital Economy Bill has been subjected to yet another last minute amendment.

This time, following its debate in the House of Lords, Lord Mendelsohn successfully proposed increasing the existing 10Mbps USO to 30Mbps – with 6Mbps upload – by 2020. But is delivering 30Mbps by that date realistically possible and is it a necessary requirement, or over-ambitious overkill?

The initial plan was for the current BDUK programme to hit its expected 97% coverage by 2020 and then the 10Mbps USO would ensure the same minimum level of connectivity for the remaining 3%.

Whilst specific methods and technologies have not yet been confirmed by Ofcom, achieving the existing 10Mbps USO is widely accepted as realistically possible via a variety of technologies that are expected to be delivered predominantly by BT, albeit with other providers in the mix. However, delivering a minimum service of 30 Mbps to 100% of the UK is a whole new ball game!

Whilst we welcome the desire to increase speeds for consumers and encourage network investment across the industry, we believe this should be achieved through technological developments, not Government-imposed demands.

In our opinion, the Government, as usual, has missed the boat on this and should have had these plans and requirements in place back in the mid 2000s when the 21C network was being developed and rolled out. If that had been the case we would be in a better position now to achieve this level of USO by the 2020 deadline as the correct technology would already have been implemented.

As it stands, by the time we can implement the correct underlying infrastructure to deliver these sorts of speeds to 100% of the UK it will no doubt be overtaken by further technological developments or be irrelevant due to ever-increasing bandwidth demands.

It’s another example of coming up with great headline-hitting and consumer-pleasing ideas but without any industry consultation as to whether it could even be achieved. The estimated price tag for delivering a 30Mbps USO is already being cited at around £2 billion – who is expected to pay for this? Network providers? Tax payers? The Government (and thereby, tax payers? Unsurprisingly, there is next to no information available to answer this question.

But it’s not just the headline ‘30Mbps USO’ we have concerns over. The new requirements also state every household should have access to an unlimited usage cap and receive committed information rates of 10Mbps.

So, network providers are going to be required to build their networks to accommodate this ‘potential’ need for unlimited bandwidth from every user even though most don’t and won’t want or need it, just ‘in case’ it’s needed. Clearly the Lords have no idea how network management works or how much cost this would incur. Why do they have no idea? Because yet again, industry advice has been widely ignored.

At a time when Ofcom is working hard to encourage competition and ensure a level playing field across the wholesale market, proposals like this could see smaller providers and network operators forced out due to high bandwidth costs and unrealistic network expectations.

Although the new amendments have been voted in by the House of Lords they still have to go back to Government who could still reject or amend them further. We wouldn’t be surprised to see even more changes to this Bill at this stage – hopefully based on at least some input from industry and with some detail with regards to funding and impact on the industry.


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