14th November 2016Is UK broadband in need of a reboot?

With the UK currently languishing in 20th place in the global speed league, there is clearly room for improvement.

Back in 2010, the government outlined plans to roll out “superfast” broadband nationwide, delivered at 24Mbits/sec or faster, to 90% of the population by 2015. This target was missed.

The state of UK broadband is amongst the top issues that MPs report receiving in their postbags. Google ‘problems with broadband’ and numerous stories will appear showing that poor broadband connection continues to make news headlines in papers across the country, especially in farming areas. Business organisations, consumer groups, tech clusters and charities have all voiced concerns over recent years. In some areas, people have even gone as far as to set up their own local internet services.

1 in 4 UK adults are said to be unhappy with their internet service, and 1 in 8 believe it’s getting worse, according to data obtained by research company, Bilendi. In addition, more people in Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Brazil are able to access pure fibre broadband in their homes and businesses than in the UK, according to data from Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications 2016.

How do we fix Britain’s Internet?
Knowing the background helps. The national broadband network is controlled by BT through its Openreach division. They’re funded by the tax payer and other broadband providers to run and maintain the network in good shape. Many operators in this sector have called for Openreach to be radically reformed and hived off from BT.

‘Fix Britain’s Internet’ was a campaign run by Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and the Federation of Communications Services in a bid to change the way that broadband is delivered in the UK. This campaign started in July of this year with the aim of encouraging people to make their views known to the independent regulator for the broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industries (which includes broadband), Ofcom.

Every ten years, Ofcom reviews the market. At the end of July, Ofcom proposed certain changes to the national structure governing broadband, including making Openreach a legally separate company from BT, with its own board and more consultation to be had with its customers. It opened up this proposal to public debate, and when the consultation closed in early October, more than 75,000 people had signed up to the campaign to reform Openreach.

BT’s standpoint
While the Openreach debate rumbles on, BT has issued a statement saying that superfast broadband is now available to more than 90% of homes in Britain, disproving in their view the idea that the UK is lagging behind other nations when it comes to digital connectivity. Simon Lowth, Group Finance Director at BT, has stated that Britain leads the five largest European economies in terms of superfast coverage, take-up and average broadband connections speed.

According to data from the Office of National Statistics, the percentage of urban homes in Great Britain who can access speeds of 30Mbits/sec or faster has now risen to 96.6%. However, when it comes to those in rural areas, the picture isn’t so bright, with the only 75.3% homes covered to the same standard.

With Brexit looming, the new government is keen to ensure that UK businesses aren’t held back by poor internet connections. Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, made it clear in a House of Commons speech that the government will be carefully scrutinising Ofcom’s eventual recommendations for the future operation of the UK’s broadband network, saying it would get the right result, even if that meant considering a full separation of Openreach from BT.

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E advice@hwfisher.co.uk

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