2 Broadband availability |
8. According to BT only 3% of UK premises (around
850,000) cannot currently access more than 2 Mbps per second or
'basic' broadband coverage and 78% of premises now have access
to superfast broadband.
Availability of superfast broadband has increased from 60% at
the end of 2011 to 78% in June 2014 and the BT 'fibre footprint'
is increasing at a rate of 60 000 premises a week.
9. National average figures mask significant local
disparities, however, and it is inevitable that rural areas, being
hardest to reach, fall below, and in some cases well below, those
overall tallies. Recent data demonstrate that 16 UK parliamentary
constituencies still have zero coverage of 'superfast' broadband.
No target date has been set for moving the final 5% of premises
to superfast broadband access: the absence of information on that
point was repeatedly mentioned in written evidence to us.
10. For those affected, there is concern that coverage
targets and deadlines are unclear, minimum speed requirements
too slow and distribution of information at local level too poor.
11. Target dates for delivering universal basic (2
Mbps) broadband coverage have changed a number of times. The original
date for completion was 2012, but the Government moved that to
the end of the current Parliament and has since changed the date
again, to the end of 2016. Similarly, the Government's original
objective of rolling out superfast broadband to cover 90% of premises
by 2015 has been altered to 95% of premises by 2017.
Nor is it certain that even that target will be met: when the
Committee questioned BT, its Group Director for Strategy, Policy
and Portfolio, Sean Williams, replied: "it is there or thereabouts.
It may end up being in 2018".
12. Without any official target date, it is also
unclear when superfast broadband will reach the final 5% of premises.
Chris Townsend, Chief Executive Officer of BDUK, stated in our
evidence session: "I am absolutely committed to finalising
that last 5% by 2020 at the very latest".
Each of the 44 local bodies has a wide variation in geography,
topography and other issues, however, explaining why equal coverage
can be difficult to achieve. Chris Townsend admitted that "at
the end of phase one, some local bodies will be in the high 70s,
others will be in the high 90s".
changes in target dates for rollout of superfast broadband inevitably
reduce confidence that coverage will be achieved on time. They
also leave those in the hardest-to-reach areas uncertain as to
when their businesses will be able fully to engage with digital
practices. Beyond business purposes, householders, particularly
in rural communities, are being left behind in accessing online
services that most of the country can take for granted. Activities
as diverse as children's homework, online tax returns, and simply
watching television now depend significantly on good online access.
14. We were concerned to hear BT tell us that
the present target of 95% of premises receiving superfast broadband
by 2017 may slip. Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) must make it clear
that the target date must be met. A target date for when the last
5% of premises will obtain access to superfast broadband coverage
must be published.
15. There are two speeds which are important for
broadband coverage in England. The first is the Universal Service
Commitment (USC), a commitment from the Government that "virtually
everyone" will have access to broadband at a speed of 2 Mbps
and above. The second is 24 Mbps, the speed currently used in
England to define superfast broadband.
16. In spite of what BT says about near universal
basic coverage, written evidence to us suggests that in practice
2 Mbps is not delivered consistently. Recurring problems include
poor speed at peak times and broadband 'dropping in and out',
meaning that the connection sometimes fails completely. Andrew
Clark, the NFU's director of policy, suggested that minimum broadband
speeds are akin to fuel consumption in a car: "you rarely
find that you can actually achieve it".
Ofcom has also suggested that increasing average speeds mask significant
variation in the speeds received by individual households.
17. There is disagreement about what constitutes
an acceptable minimum broadband speed. Sean Williams from BT said:
"2 Mbps is essentially our view of what the minimum speed
for an acceptable broadband service is these days".
However, it is unclear why this speed has been chosen or how long
this should remain the basic speed. 2Mbps broadband speed allows
a user to access emails and webpages with basic functionality.
For example the BBC IPlayer website states that 2 Mbps of sustained
speed is necessary for standard play, but 3 Mbps is necessary
for high-definition services. 
18. The 2 Mbps figure raises two problems. Firstly,
there is an assumption that this figure is already universally
accessible, but much of the evidence we have received makes it
clear that in reality 2 Mbps is often a maximum, rather than a
consistent speed achieved, and that it is often unachievable at
peak times. The second issue is that 2 Mbps may no longer be an
acceptable minimum. James Fraser wrote in his written evidence:
Today an internet connection needs at least 2 Mbps
to be considered functional. In a further five years' time most
internet users are likely to require 24 Mbps for their service
to be functional. In the future we may well find that 100 Mbps
becomes a new minimum.
19. In the 2014 Infrastructure report, Ofcom said:
The Government's current Universal Service Commitment
(USC) of 2 Mbit/s may now merit review. Evidence suggests that
c 10 Mbit/s may now be required to meet consumer's expectations
of standard broadband.
20. For many services, 2 Megabits per second (Mbps)
is already an outdated figure, and 10 Mbps is increasingly recommended
as a suitable USC for standard provision. The Government must
reassess whether the 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment remains
a valid one.
21. The superfast broadband speed definition is the
second important speed target. The Department of Culture, Media
and Sport define superfast broadband as 24 Mbps. Projects already
under way will satisfy the superfast criteria if they deliver
24 Mbps, the BT rollout is classified as already under way. However,
future projects must target speeds of 30 Mbps to qualify as superfast.
This new speed of 30 Mbps is closer to European targets. The EU
expects all Member States to have access to 30 Mbps by 2020.
of pounds are being invested in the rollout of superfast broadband
at 24 Megabits per second. Within three years of the expected
delivery date, however, that speed will no longer be considered
'superfast' by European standards.
23. BT have a range of contractual measures in place
which limit information sharing about the progress of broadband
rollout. The standard contract between BT and a local authority
includes non-disclosure agreements which prevent local authorities
from discussing their contractual arrangements with one another.
BT's detailed plans for rollout of superfast broadband in any
area are part of the contract agreed between BT and local authorities.
The contract includes provision that details about when and where
BT will install superfast broadband remain confidential between
the parties. It has been argued that this raises difficulties
when other suppliers have insufficient information to enable them
to develop plans for alternative projects to reach premises not
covered by the current programme.
24. Much of the written evidence we have received
refers to the absence of clear and accessible information sharing
about broadband rollout. For example South Somerset and East Devon
District Councils and Baron St David Parish Council state there
is an "absence of transparency"
and "no visibility on how public money is being spent.
Business in the Community, a business-led charity, asked for:
Greater transparency from all parties involved in
the rollout of the Superfast broadband programme, which should
provide information about the current availability of superfast
broadband at a premises level and where the coverage will be provided
to 95% of premises by 2017.
need access to timely data from BT that allows them accurately
to monitor take-up of broadband. Equally, they need access to
timely data from BT about planned broadband coverage and speed.
It has been argued that distributing information about broadband
coverage on a postcode by postcode basis can be misleading. An
'enabled' postcode does not necessarily mean that each premise
within the postcode is enabled.
- We are surprised that no assessment of the
first phase of contracts with BT has been published before the
phase two and three contracts are signed. Phase two contracts
being signed must include provisions to ensure that local councils
and BT keep local communities up-to-date with planned broadband
coverage and speed. Information about rollout should be delivered
on a premise-by-premise basis as opposed to by postcode.
9 BT (RBB 0091) para 2 Back
BT (RBB 0091) para 2 Back
Fixed Broadband: Policy and Speeds 2014, Standard note
SN06643, House of Commons Library, December 2014 Back
Fontburn Residents' Association and Internet Project, Northumberland
(RBB 0067) para 3 Back
Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 'Broadband Delivery UK,'
accessed 23 January 2015 Back
OFCOM, Infrastructure Report 2014 (December 2014), p38 Back
BBC, 'iPlayer Help', accessed 26 January 2015 Back
James Fraser (RBB 0005) para 19 Back
OFCOM, Infrastructure Report 2014 (December 2014), p20 Back
European Commission, 'Digital Agenda for Europe: About our goals',
accessed 26 January 2015 Back
South Somerset and East Devon District Councils (RBB 0031) para
Baron St David Parish Council (RBB 0032) para 13 Back
Business in the Community (RBB 0082) para 4 Back