The UK’s culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has stated his intentions to provide citizens with the fastest broadband network of any major European country by 2015, delivering speeds of more than 24Mbps to over 90 per cent of the country.
While it remains to be seen whether this will bring higher speeds to a greater proportion of the country than the fibre networks being built in Germany, France, Italy and Spain, these speeds would certainly be a vast improvement on the 2Mbps target set by earlier governments.
Making his comments in a speech at Google’s Campus building at Silicon Roundabout in east London, Hunt’s announcement appears to be a rejoinder to a recent report from the House of Lords committee that found current government plans are too focused on speed rather than availability.
“We simply will not have a competitive broadband network unless we recognise the massive growth in demand for higher and higher speeds,” said Hunt. “Today’s superfast is tomorrow’s superslow. Just as the last government was wrong to hang its hat on 2Mbps speeds, we must never fall into the trap of saying any speed is ‘enough’.”
The culture secretary added that the government is currently considering how to allocate part of the television license fee to delivering high-speed broadband to the remaining 10 per cent of the country not covered by the target.
Dominant telco BT has been having great success bidding for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funds to deliver high-speed broadband to rural parts of the country, with most of the country being wired up with fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) networks – an approach which Hunt described as a temporary measure.
“The reason we are backing fibre-to-the-cabinet as a potential medium-term solution is simple: the increase in speeds that it allows – 80Mbps certainly but in certain cases up to 1Gbps – will comfortably create Europe’s biggest and most profitable high-speed broadband market,” he said.
BT also plans to offer fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) connections on an on-demand basis, and the culture secretary predicted that by 2016, two-thirds of the country will be able to sign up for one of these connections.
However, despite Hunt’s bombast, the government’s opposition have been quick to denounce his speech as lacking in detail, with shadow culture minister Helen Goodman saying: “He boldly declared that Britain will have the fastest broadband network in Europe but then offered no plan as to how he will make this happen.”
The European Commission has already set a target for all European nations to offer basic broadband to all their citizens by 2013, and high-speed broadband of over 30Mbps to all their citizens by 2020.
The Nordic countries dominate the European speed rankings at the moment thanks to their early adoption of FTTH technology, although the larger countries are also beginning to install fibre broadband on a national scale, thanks in some cases to enterprise-led initiative, and in others to government-mandated targets.