There is only one future for broadband that makes sense — fast, cheap and everywhere. Without those attributes, the companies, services and innovation that fuel online growth cannot flourish, and the future will more resemble the past and the days of telco-induced stasis.
Today, two key parts of that future are being revealed. BT is promising £1.5bn investment in nationwide fibre — not in the backbone but in the crucial last mile, delivering between 40Mbps and 100Mbps to homes either directly or via on-street cabinets. Meanwhile, the European Commission is moving ahead with its campaign to reduce roaming charges on short messaging and 3G data, preparing to ratchet the costs down from truly outrageous to merely shocking.
These look like essential moves in the right direction. Indeed, both are necessary. But churlish as it may seem, it is precisely this sort of good news that deserves the closest scrutiny.
BT's plans for fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-curb are being coyly unveiled with few details for the industry and many barely coded messages to the regulator. Commercially, it wins if it manages to string out deployment to reduce capital expenditure, keeping speeds just high enough to deter competition and prices just low enough to cream off premium users. None of these dynamics are to the benefit of the wider industry: Ofcom's job will be to call BT's bluff and hold the company to higher interests than market manipulation. We'd like at least a bit of blood on the carpet, please.
EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding's job can perhaps best be compared to that of a high-class brothel keeper in an S&M dungeon. Only when her clients are truly screaming will she know she's doing her job right. So far, they're merely moaning at the prospect of what's to come: it's not in the customers' interests to cut costs, say the mobile operators, because we'll only have to charge them more some other way. Such perverse reasoning has the reek of cartels and unearned privilege: it deserves correction.
As the future users of broadband, we are lucky to have regulators with backbone. We support them as our voice in the argument, and expect them to promote an honest market with proper competition as the delivery mechanism for the operators' greater responsibilities. The louder the cries, the better we like it.