The Digital Economy Bill, proposed in the Queen’s Speech, aims to give households the right to high-speed broadband access. This is part of an ongoing strategy aimed at raising the standards of broadband provision throughout the country, and gives the regulator Ofcom powers to compel providers to make available minimum speeds of 10Mbps.
Why Does It Need to Be Fast?
High-speed broadband isn’t just about getting data a second quicker. The quantity of data we download at one time today (streaming a video, for instance, or playing an online game) is vastly higher than it was a few years ago. The broadband supplied to many homes, and even more crucially to businesses, simply can’t cope with it.
Businesses are unlikely to need access to games, but the issue here is often numbers of users. If multiple employees are all trying to download important data from the same broadband connection, it can slow down and cause delays. Also, as we see periodically with ticket sales for special events, heavy demand on an ecommerce site can easily crash the site.
How Does the UK Currently Perform?
According to Ofcom figures based on data collected in 2014, the UK has a higher availability of “Next Generation” broadband than France and Germany. Worldwide, though, a number of countries do better than us, including the USA, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Even in Europe, we’re outperformed by the Netherlands.
Perhaps more crucially, the UK’s next generation broadband is mostly the VDSL system, which tends to suffer more from variable speeds than its rivals. We also have one of the lowest uptakes of the FTTH/P system, the truly superfast broadband.
What Is the Government Doing?
The government already has a programme to make basic broadband (2Mbps) available to all by December 2015. This should, therefore. already have been achieved, but figures aren’t yet available. They also aim to make high-speed broadband available to 95% of the country by 2017, a target many businesses consider too low.
Besides fibre-based broadband, we’re relying more and more on mobile connections. As most of us have experienced, these can be extremely variable, with frequent blind spots, especially in remoter areas. The government is investing in improving coverage, but it remains to be seen whether this will be enough.
The new measures in the Queen’s Speech include automatic right of compensation for broadband failures, as well as “a power to direct Ofcom to review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life”.
Even so, we may need to run a lot faster than we are currently to catch up with the world leaders in high-speed broadband.