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Superfast Broadband – Surely That’s A Given?

As the UK government confirms that superfast penetration in the UK has hit 95.39 per cent, we ask whether that goes far enough

This week the government announced that its focus on providing 95 per cent of the population had given UK businesses a £9 billion shot in the arm. Not only that, the scheme has provided a tremendous return on investment, with UK businesses reaping £12 of benefit for every £1 invested by the government.

The UK’s Minister for Digital, Margot James, said that achieving 95 per cent superfast penetration across the country was one of the government’s biggest challenges but also one of its biggest successes. With official coverage now at 95.39 per cent, the British government, and its partners in the telecoms sector, can feel pretty happy with their achievements.
But while the success of the government’s Superfast Broadband initiative is a step in the right direction, it shouldn’t be allowed to mask the fact that the UK still has a long way to go if it is to establish itself as a centre of excellence for connectivity.
With the country languishing in 35th position in a recent survey of international broadband speeds (and clocking an average speed of just 18.57Mbps) there is still a great deal of work to be done.
Central to this thought is the UK’s woefully low fibre to the home (FTTH) penetration levels, with less than 3 per cent of UK homes and businesses being able to access gigabit speed fibre broadband.
When you consider that 1000Mbps FTTH broadband is around 40 times faster than its superfast counterpart, it begins to beg the question – Shouldn’t we be taking superfast access for granted by now?
As the UK’s digital economy continues to evolve and grow, superfast access is simply not going to be good enough to support the scale of connectivity that the country will demand.
Basic Internet access is simply no longer enough. As the majority of the connections in the UK are copper-based, it is evident that the UK is not fully prepared for the digital future. Recent OFCOM research has found that the average household is doubling its data consumption every two years, be it watching online video or accessing government services, and so adequate broadband is swiftly becoming vital, explains Jeremy Chelot, CEO of Community Fibre.
“To keep up with these demands, quality true full-fibre broadband must be regarded as an essential utility. With a greater number of vital services going online and demanding a high-speed connection, strong and decisive action will be required sooner than many anticipate”.
“It is therefore not enough to measure success by simple internet connections- the number of true full-fibre connections is the only measure policymakers should be interested in.”
While 95 per cent superfast penetration is a good starting point, Chelot argues that the UK government must now focus all of its attention on cultivating the right economic conditions for investment in FTTH. The government has stated that it wants to achieve 100 per cent FTTH penetration by 2033. If it is to achieve that lofty aim, it is going to need to make rapid progress in removing some of the barriers to FTTH deployment.
The UK is in desperate need of high quality broadband infrastructure to remain competitive and many smaller and more innovative companies are in a great position to provide this. It is now up to the Government to support and encourage their growth. Easing the ability for those building true full fibre networks to sign new wayleaves would undoubtedly prove to be a step in the right direction.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chelot argues that one of the biggest steps the UK government can take towards streamlining its connectivity to sector, is to lessen the country’s dependence on its incumbent provider, Openreach.
Just as the European Parliament has clamped down on telecom giants, the UK Government now needs to take action against the distorting effect they have on the market.
The oligopoly model has ultimately constrained innovation. This can be seen in the countries where the incumbent operators have maintained significant market power, such as the UK and Germany. It is no coincidence that these nations have the lowest levels of full-fibre penetration.
“However, it’s promising that those in power are beginning to understand the benefits of a more diverse market, not least in terms of reducing the cost of vital broadband services,” he concluded. – Total telecom
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