EIU report reinforces Lords’ broadband findings
The Economist Intelligence Unit, and to a lesser extent, Huawei, have lent their support to the House of Lords communications committee that excoriated the government’s desire to speed up broadband access to those who already have a decent enough service.
The EIU document pours cold water on government dreams of vaulting the UK into hyperfast growth because some people will be able to download movies at 100Mbps.
It says rather, “In the near term, ensuring pervasive internet access to all parts of society—rural users, the elderly and others—will be at least as beneficial to society as a whole as upgrading to superfast broadband.”
Which is basically what the lords said.
The EIU report was sponsored by Huawei. It is somewhat ironic that Huawei should have paid for this conclusion. It is, after all, one of the main beneficiaries of BT’s £2.5bn commercial roll-out. BT’s plan will see two-thirds of homes get access to up to 80Mbps download speeds via a fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) infrastructure.
Huawei also sponsored the conference, headed by communications minister Ed Vaizey, at which the EIU released the report. It must have made uncomfortable listening for the junior minister.
Vaizey is still battling Brussels, which has so far refused to endorse BDUK’s framework for procuring next generation access networks outside BT’s “commercial footprint”.
With BT and Virgin Media joining forces against Birmingham’s taxpayer-aided Superconnected Cities procurement of a 100Mbps metropolitan area network, there seems hardly an element of the government’s £1.3bn national broadband strategy that is not in trouble.
It will take two to three years to resolve the BT/VM complaint, insiders say. That takes the UK pretty much into the next parliament. That gives BT and VM plenty of time to use their own money to consolidate their positions in urban areas.
VM has no declared interest in expanding its footprint (in case it attracts an Ofcom requirement to provide ‘open access’ to its passive infrastructure), and BT can say today whether a street cabinet is inside or outside its commercial footprint.
Rather than give the BDUK billion back to the Treasury, Vaizey should concentrate on getting next gen broadband to those who need it most – those in the Final Third – before the upcoming elections.
Vaizey and his boss, Maria Miller, should be able to find a way to support the dozens of communities that are battling to get a service that neither BT and VM see as worth doing.
If they are wondering where to start, try the applicants to Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund. Not only are they having to meet some very tough financial obligations, but they still have the passion for the job. Perhaps just cutting some red tape, and paying for some technical expertise to avoid ‘island’ networks could produce miracles in the countryside.
Did I mention the upcoming elections?