The fastest broadband in Europe? No, minister
By Nicole Kobie
Posted on 20 Aug 2012 at 14:00
Broadband minister Jeremy Hunt remains convinced that the UK can have the "best" broadband in Europe by 2015 - and says it may already have the fastest of "major" European countries.
In 2010, Hunt pledged to give the UK the "best" broadband in Europe - although he didn't give the criteria - as he offered up only £530m in public money. "After two years, we have the lowest cost, most comprehensive and fastest broadband of any major European country," he claimed in a speech today.
"So I am today announcing an ambition to be not just the best, but specifically the fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015," Hunt added. "Indeed we may already be there."
Hunt said that when he started work, UK broadband was ranked 21st out of 30 OECD countries in terms of speed. The UK held that position on the OECD speed charts in 2009; the latest stats released three weeks ago suggest the UK has moved up to 16th place, behind European countries including France, Portugal and Denmark, but above Germany and Switzerland.
However, the OECD stats are not actual speeds, but average advertised speeds. The OECD rates the UK's average advertised speed as 34.4Mbits/sec, but Ofcom's own numbers suggest the UK's actual average speed is only 9Mbits/sec.
Network analyst firm Akamai updated its own broadband speed ranking this month. It reported an average attainable UK speed of 4.9Mbits/sec, ranking the UK 15th in Europe - but it did post a 14% annual increase.
Last month, a House of Lords committee report criticised Hunt for focusing government funding on improving speeds, rather than services for poorly-served rural areas.
In his speech, Hunt said the government was focusing on speed to future-proof networks, rather than install infrastructure that's good enough now, but won't hold up to growing demand - such as for HD video. "The message has to be don't bet against the internet, yes, but also don't bet against the need for speed," he said.
"Which is why when the Lords Committee criticised me this summer for being preoccupied with speed, I plead guilty," he said. "And so should we all."
He said that the government would keep speed goals in mind when deciding how to spend the remaining £300m of broadband funding. "In particular we will look at whether we can tap into to this to allow those able to access superfast broadband to be even greater than our current 90% aspiration," he said, giving hope to those in rural areas that are currently being promised no better than a minimum 2Mbits/sec.
The Lords report also criticised the use of fibre to the cabinet, rather than rolling out all the way to homes. Hunt claimed FTTC was not "the sum of the government's ambitions", saying it was merely a "stepping stone" to fibre to the home. He promised two-thirds coverage by 2016 - BT's own goal for fibre.
In terms of other OECD broadband rankings, Britain sits in the middle of the chart for cost of low-end packages, and is one of the cheapest for top-tier broadband in the OECD nations, according to September 2011 figures. For broadband penetration, it's ranked middle of the chart.
Another concern with UK broadband is delays to government funding being doled out by Broadband Delivery UK. Hunt admitted the BDUK rollout was delayed, but confirmed he expects EU approval for the funding by this autumn.
He called on local authorities to be ready to get to work when approval is granted, in order for projects to be completed by 2015, and criticised those that haven't played along.
"Most have been extremely supportive - but we still have some frustrating examples of inflexible approaches to planning - not least Kensington and Chelsea, who have deprived their residents of superfast broadband as a result," he said. The London borough in May refused to give BT permission to upgrade cabinets in the area.
Tavistock Superfast Broadband
Why is Jeremy Hunt not able to see that the UK Government is not doing enough for England as regards the physical delivery of fibre.
Preferring to make sure that UK average speeds are increased by making the fast faster and leaving the digital slow to rot.
Look at Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland - in comparison much of England is being left behind. Tavistock is an example - not in any mickey mouse BDUK funding and not on any roll-out plan to date.
By TavistockSuperfastBroadband on 20 Aug 2012
Yes - fast broadband if you live in a city (or a very few other places) and to hell with the rest of us!!
Just been watching a repeat of "yes, minister" - nothing changes!
By houndscroft on 20 Aug 2012
The same everywhere
Here in Germany, we have the same problem. I am currently stuck on a 3mbps line in a small town. The local provider has laid glass fibre to the door here and I will be switching shortly to 35mbps, but Deutsche Telekom, the equivalent of BT, still only offers a maximum of 3mbps.
That said, in many parts of rural Germany, there are people who feel lucky that they can get an ISDN connection with either 64kbps or 128kbps.
One employee at my previous employer used to get his AV software updates once a month, when he visited head office, because it took too long to download at 36kbps on his modem at home.
DT and Vodafone do seem to be covering some of the more rural areas with LTE, so that they can at least get online, even if it is a very low volume cap, compared to the unlimited traffic volume of a landline.
By big_D on 21 Aug 2012
Oh so out of touch with reality...
Quote: "Broadband minister Jeremy Hunt remains convinced that the UK can have the "best" broadband in Europe by 2015 - and says it may already have the fastest of "major" European countries."
If he truly believes this then it is just one more example of how badly out of touch our politicians really are with the facts.
By jontym123 on 21 Aug 2012
I wonder what the criteria for 'major' European countries are... Funnily enough a lot of Central and East European countries actually have better and more modern infrastructure than the UK where it's been built up from the scratch relatively recently, not kept on being patched up since the Victorians. Just have a look how high Czech Republic and Romania are.
Then again, France and Spain are, after all, 'major' European countries and they seem to linger close to the bottom, so maybe he knows what he's saying after all ;)
By Josefov on 21 Aug 2012
He's not out of touch....
Mr Hunt is a politician, in fact a Tory Minister. It follows that he will spin everything in order:
a) to slag Labour
b) to make him look good.
Actually improving Broadband, reigning in his mate Rupert, or anything else even vaguely related to his nominal role as 'Culture Secretary' comes a long way behind these imperatives.
The fact is that rolling-out 'superfast' broadband (say 20Mbps +) means fibre. Fibre is relatively costly.
This is not, in the short-term at least, commercially viable. Having said that the costs of installing fibre to remote homes would, like the costs of existing copper, be amortised over many decades.
Where commercial interests won't invest, it generally falls to the State to do so (London - Birmingham TGV), but Jeremy & his mates aren't interested in rural dwellers when they can knock 10 minutes off London - Birmingham for all those vital 'business' journeys.
By wittgenfrog on 21 Aug 2012
That is odd....
@big_d: That is odd, I thought that the problem of slow broadband was hardly an issue in Germany because of their vast FTTH and cable broadband network?
By formula_86 on 21 Aug 2012
East Germany received a lot of investment after the Wall came down. West Germany was a little neglected, it is now playing catch-up.
There is Kabel Deutschland, a bit like Virgin, but it isn't available everywhere and they are very high pressure in selling, a lot of people won't touch them.
Telekom is slowly rolling out fibre, but, like the UK, small towns and villages are low on the list.
I'm lucky that I live in an area, where an independant telco has laid a lot of fibre.
By big_D on 22 Aug 2012
Beg to differ
We have use of some 4 adsl and one EFM circuits. My home in London SE1 gets 5 mbps download at best and is quite contended in the evening. In the sticks in France our holiday home gets 9.24 mbps download, 0.86 mbps upload with little contention. In the city on London our office had to move to a pricey 10 Mips EFM(c. 9 MPBS up/download and no contention) due to the ADSL getting worse and worse during office hours(down to 0.4 MBPS download !). IN france I pay 21 euros a month and have never had to reboot the Netgear router either.
By Ip_pmjm044d1322b on 23 Aug 2012
Ha Ha Ha
My house was built just as the cables were being laid in this area - and therefore weren't in the plans and didn't get it. That was 20 years ago. My speed today is 4.04mbps and unlikely to change much.
By Brightonian on 23 Aug 2012
Don’t be fooled but the FTTC rollout numbers. I believe BT are misleading us all and counting all telephone subscribers on a given exchange as able to get FTTC (BT Infinity), remember only a few cabinets on an exchange need be enabled for them to say that the exchange is enabled. The difference between the number of telephone subscribers and the number of FTTC cabinets with subscribers on and exchange can be significant, multiply this up for every ‘FTTC enabled’ exchange in the country and the difference from reality is like massive!
By AGeezer on 23 Aug 2012
We need super-wide broadband, not just super-fast.
A few years back, I used to get 40Mb on a 24Mb ADSL connection because I live less than a mile from the exchange and nobody in my area (Moss Side) could afford broadband and Bulldog had ridiculously good contention ratios. That situation didn't last long, as Bulldog are no more, and without any cable down the street (Nynex stopped 3 streets across for some reason - probably because there was no demand?) the demand for mid-speed ADSL rocketed as costs dropped. The chance of me ever getting fibre to my house is almost zero and I live in central Manchester. Hunt is right to think forwards but I just feel incredibly sorry for those in rural areas.
My office has a 2Mb SDSL connection. Video is a non-starter. It's far faster through my mobile phone (HDSPA) but that slows to a crawl at lunchtime. 4G will temporarily make most of the current BB expansion plans redundant for me - and by the time hardware catches up, I expect 5G to be knocking on the door.
By baldmosher on 23 Aug 2012
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