It will always be impractical to implement superfast broadband for every household. Why?
Roughly 5% of houses will not be covered by real superfast broadband. This is commonly because they are geographically dispersed, have long lines to the exchange or have no BT fixed line service. All of these premises, people and businesses are stuck in a time warp drying up their ability to use the digital world and preventing growth of smaller businesses. The internet is now so pervasive, I would argue that it is far more important than traditional telephony, especially when it comes to inclusivity of our society (leaving people behind), and inspiring the next generation.
High speed Internet is essential for our society going forward. If we are to compete with the likes of the asia block, we must invest and bring real superfast speeds to every household. Aiming for 100Mbit for each household should be a minimum; and not in 10 years but we need to start working now.
A world of connected devices, Internet of Things, real free sharing of information, open honesty from governments, financial transparency, all of these rely upon an open and inclusive Internet. As the barriers between countries become lost into an electronic world, we should be at the forefront, the pioneers, the innovators.
But we are stuck in the international slower lane, and told that fixed telephone line is not always the answer to super fast internet. We are told this as the 5% left are expensive, complicated or just not profitable to service. Let’s first think of the alternatives:
- Mobile providers are now slowly distributing faster data services, but for the 5%, they are not going to be anywhere near the top of the list of telecoms masts to upgrade to 4G. When we can’t even get good mobile internet coverage on the train, how are we going to expect good rural coverage?
- Satellite broadband services are available – offering up to the ‘slow’ end of the superfast spectrum (10Mbits), they are very expensive; bandwidth limited and they introduce large time lags making it virtually impossible for computer gaming and time sensitive security applications (VPN’s etc).
- There are also a few wireless initiatives, but these are few and tend to focus on ‘slow’ speeds for defined communities (such as villages) and still backhaul over BT fixed line network.
In essence, whilst there are a few alternatives, none of them live up to a sustainable and high quality service that we have come to expect over the BT fixed line network in towns and cities.
If the answer is the fixed line network, there are a couple of scenarios that should be considered:
- UK plc should invest heavily into this fixed line service to upgrade all lines to FTTP. This will help bring us inline with our international competitors, allow the country to aim higher, facilitate home working and create a platform for sustainable business innovation.
- UK plc should bring the fixed line network into public hands, take the cost/risk away from a public company and return an asset to the country. Whilst some may consider this to be BT’s crown jewels, it is essentially run as a separate entity, it would allow BT to fairly compete and grow it’s business base.
The risk here is that the R&D investment BT has made into the broadband network would get lost. That spark and driver for innovation forced by competition may be lost.
- Perhaps the compromise is the formation of a UK Openreach – a publically owned shell organisation that distributes contracts to 3rd parties for the provision of a fixed line network. This would have to ‘own’ the local loop connection from exchange/green cabinet; but not the back haul to the ISP’s network. This should not stop at just BT though; Virgin Media’s fibre network etc should also have to give up their wares to competition.
- Amend the universal service obligation to focus on broadband and Internet speeds and not calls – after all, mobile or IP telephony is simple with sufficient speed to the Internet.
What ever we do though, we cannot afford to lose world class technologies companies like BT. There needs to be enough incentive to be creative, exciting and excellent in their use of technology; innovative enough to provide them with a business platform that is sustainable; and produce companies that are internationally competitive and world leading.