UK broadband: Hunt defends need for speed

UK broadband: Hunt defends need for speed

Summary: The UK will continue to pursue its ambition of having the fastest broadband network in Europe under the BDUK scheme.

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Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has defended his focus on putting headline broadband speeds at the top of the UK's broadband agenda in spite of recent criticism by the House of Lords.

On Monday, Hunt reaffirmed his aspirations for the UK to have one of the best broadband networks in Europe, outlining his hope that the country have one of the fastest networks on the continent.

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt has defended his 'preoccupation' with headline speeds in broadband rollout, ahead of rural coverage. Image credit: DCMS

"Today I am announcing an ambition to be not just the best overall, but specifically the fastest broadband of any major European country," Jeremy Hunt said in a speech on broadband in London.

Hunt, who said that broadband infrastructure is essential for the growth of the UK's digital and creative industries, drew parallels between the focus on high speeds in broadband and in the UK's high-speed rail network.

"When our high-speed network opens from London to Birmingham in 2026, it will be 45 years after the French opened theirs and 62 years after the Japanese opened theirs. Just think how much our economy has been held back by lower productivity for half a century," Hunt said.

Pre-occupied with speed

"When the Lords committee criticised me for being pre-occupied with speed, I plead guilty. And so should we all, because we simply will not have a competitive broadband network until we recognise the massive growth in demand for higher and higher speeds," he added.

"When the Lords committee criticised me for being pre-occupied with speed, I plead guilty" — Jeremy Hunt

The speech underlines the government's current Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, which aims to provide universal access of 2Mbps to all homes and super-fast (over 25Mbps) to 90 percent of the UK by 2015.

The plan has been criticised for focusing on headline speeds, rather than how it will help more geographically challenging, largely rural areas to attain a reliable, higher-speed connection.

"The danger is that the culture secretary's tunnel-vision emphasis on average speed addresses levels of demand from consumers and businesses for faster connections, but doesn't take rural areas into account — many of these areas are still suffering from patchy service and pitifully slow speeds even in the fibre-optic age," Julia Stent, telecoms expert at uSwitch, said in a statement.

BDUK goals

Hunt said good progress has already been made towards BDUK's goals, citing statistics such as a 50-percent increase in the UK's average home broadband speeds since May 2010 and two-thirds of the population now on packages of more than 10Mbps, a higher percentage than the majority of European countries except Portugal and Bulgaria.

Hunt said the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is still deciding how to use the £300m of BBC licence fee money that has been set aside to fund super-fast broadband access for more than 90 percent of the country. The department is currently undecided whether it will be allocated in the same match-funded process as the rest of the BDUK framework, Hunt said.

The Culture Secretary said a mix of technologies would be used to achieve BDUK's goals, including fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), but also conceded that wireless and fixed-wireless would be needed to help bring the fastest speeds to the 90 percent.

Delays

The BDUK process is currently delayed due to EU scrutiny of the way in which contracts are being allocated, over fears of a lack of competition in the bidding process; all project approvals to date have been given to BT. Nevertheless, Hunt said he was confident of getting state-aid approval by the autumn and hoped that the majority of projects will be completed by 2015.

"To achieve this timetable projects will need to be ready on time and they will need to be able to progress through the procurement process without delay," Hunt said.

"Most have been extremely supportive — but we still have some frustrating examples of inflexible planning — not least Kensington and Chelsea, who have deprived their residents of super-fast broadband investment as a result," he added.

Topics: Broadband, Fiber, Government UK

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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2 comments
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  • James should listen to Lords. Not telcos.

    Kensington and Chelsea already have superfast from virgin? Why on earth would they want fttc from BT and more cabs for an obsolete technology?
    How can making the cities go faster solve the growing digital divide, where millions can't get a fit for purpose connection and still remain analogue?
    The aim of digitalbritain is to get citizens online, and you won't do that by making those who have a service go even faster. You have to get connectivity to everyone, and the incumbent can't do that. Therefore its obvious that funding has to go to those who can. The altnets. And cut out all the obstructions in their way, planning, voa tax, unnecessary paperwork etc.

    Please JFDI Jeremy, and stop repeating the mantras the telcos spout at every opportunity. Listen to the Lords who have done their homework. They have listened to the people trying to build a digitalbritain, they haven't just listened to incumbent who pays boss millions and has shareholders who demand dividends and sweat obsolete copper assets.
    cyberdoyle
  • bit pointless

    Since even if I wanted 3d tv with 2 hd streams, which id pretty much the bandwidth of a human - notice the large optic nerves to the brain, i'd only need 10 megabits or so. say we had 4 people in the house that[all wanted to simultaneously watch different movies 24x7, this makes 40 megabits. More, is pointless waste. On that note, how will the internet survive when oil, gas, coal, uranium run out. As we approach that point, the cost will increase exponentially. Do we have any real strategic thinking going on, or just wishful thinking.
    stevey_d