Every home in the UK will get superfast broadband, pledges PM

But exactly how fast is superfast broadband when it's at home?

But exactly how fast is superfast broadband when it's at home?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pledged every home in the UK is to get next-generation broadband.

In a speech on the UK's digital future, the PM said the government will seek to "make Britain the leading superfast broadband digital power, creating 100 per cent access to every home".

The pledge goes one step further than the government's previous broadband commitment, which saw it promise next-generation access for more than 90 per cent of the nation by 2017.

Brown's speech today however gave no timetable for when 100 per cent superfast broadband coverage would be achieved, nor defined what sort of speeds the next-generation connectivity would deliver.

A spokeswoman for the department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) told silicon.com: "We've never actually given a formal definition of what superfast broadband is because there's never been an industry agreement."

While she said a likely speed bracket "might be 40Mbps to 50Mbps" - the sort of speed provided by fibre-to-the-cabinet technology - the spokeswoman added that 20Mbps might also qualify as "superfast" because different access technologies will deliver different connections.

According to the PM, next-generation broadband is going to be as essential a service as electricity, and he identified public service delivery, smart meters, telehealth, remote learning, gaming and entertainment - and even democracy and accountability - as some of the areas that could benefit from more widespread next-gen broadband.

"Superfast broadband is the electricity of the digital age," he claimed. "And I believe it must be for all - not just for some."

The government's proposed 50p per month tax on telephone lines - set out in its Digital Britain blueprint for the nation's tech future as the funding mechanism for next-generation broadband - would be used to push superfast connectivity to every home in the UK, according to Brown's speech.

"If every household is to benefit, then it is fair that every household contributes to meeting this goal," he added.

However the PM failed to note that a number of UK homes have no telephone line and would therefore not be contributing to expanding next-generation broadband in the UK. According to watchdog Ofcom, 12 per cent of homes in 2009 were mobile only.

Leaving the rollout of next-generation broadband to "unbridled market forces" would result in next-gen broadband coverage determined by "profitability" rather than "by need or social justice, or by the national interest", according to the PM.

"This would open a lasting, pervasive and damaging new digital divide," Brown added. "It would allow the country to become split between a fast-track and a slow-track to the future, between those fortunate to live in densely populated areas and those not."

Getting superfast broadband coverage to the last 10 per cent of the country is also likely to be costly - and achieving 100 per cent coverage has previously been described as "impossible" by BT, even with the government's next-gen fund in place.

Asked how 100 per cent coverage can be achieved without a new funding mechanism, a spokeswoman for BIS told silicon.com: "We want to maximise the value of the next generation fund so obviously when we're looking at how that's spent we will look at opportunities to make sure it can get as far as possible.

"That's something [Broadband Delivery UK - the body set up to administer and oversee the fund] will be looking at - how to not just get to the 90 per cent but make sure it goes further than that in the areas that need it most."

The Conservative Party has also seized on broadband as a campaign issue in the run up to the General Election. Earlier this month the Tories unveiled a technology manifesto which included a pledge to ensure access to 100Mbps broadband for "most of the population".

However the party refused to be more specific about how large a majority the pledge would cover.

The Conservative plan includes forcing BT to open its ducts to encourage other ISPs to lay fibre. If the market then fails to cover enough of the population with superfast broadband before 2012, the Tories would also seek to create a fund to pay for the expansion of next-gen broadband.

However, rather than using a separate tax to pay for the high-speed connectivity, the Tories would take money from the BBC licence fee to pay for the next-gen broadband push - with £120m set to be drawn annually from Auntie after the digital switchover.