THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER George Osborne today announced that the government plans to bring 'ultrafast' broadband to (almost) all in the UK.
"We're committing to a new national ambition to bring ultrafast broadband of at least 100 megabits per second to nearly all homes in the country," Osborne said during his Budget 2015 speech on Wednesday.
While details were thin on the ground - with no information as to when this planned rollout will be completed or financed - Osborne boasted that such a move puts Britain "out in front" in terms of broadband innovation.
To be fair to Osborne, the news has been welcomed by many in the industry, who have praised the government its plans to make Britain fully digital.
Others are less optimistic, however, something that is perhaps unsurprising given the UK's average broadband speed currently stands at 18.7Mbps - a far cry from the 100Mbps the government is hoping to bring to all.
It's also not surprising given the state of broadband services that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the UK are currently having to deal with.
The Federation of Small Businesses last year slammed UK broadband services as "not fit for purpose", with only 15 percent of its members claiming that they were satisfied with their broadband. So SMBs might be forgiven for not having much confidence in the government's latest plans.
Greg Mesch, chief executive officer of broadband infrastructure specialist CityFibre, is among those who are not too impressed.
While welcoming the acceptance by the government that change is needed, Mesch said that its 100Mbps target isn't high enough. Instead, he believes the government should be looking to roll out faster Gigabit speeds, which BT is pledging to deliver by 2020.
Mesch said: "For too long, businesses across the country have struggled to grow and compete, suffocated by a combination of both poor access infrastructure and lack of bandwidth. All the evidence shows that high-speed digital connectivity is essential to the success of a country.
"We welcome the government’s ambition for ultrafast broadband, encouraging investment in faster connectivity to homes and businesses nationwide.
"However, the target of at least 100 megabits per second is too low. As the British economy becomes more digitally based, it is vital that even faster Gigabit speeds are achieved."
Mesch argued that the UK's communications market is "under performing" compared with international competitors, adding that the government needs to encourage a more competitive environment.
"In infrastructure terms, the UK communications market is under performing, with one of the lowest shares of fibre-connected buildings in Europe, a result of a decade of underinvestment by BT.
"It is vital the government does all it can to encourage a competitive environment for fibre investment. A level playing field that enables the new generation of fibre infrastructure builders to invest in ultrafast broadband networks will generate greater levels of innovation, services, and GVA [gross value added] growth for towns and cities across the UK."
Alex Holt, head of telecommunications sector at KPMG, agreed with Mesch's remarks, saying: "The recognition by the Chancellor of the vital role that digital infrastructure plays in driving the UK economy is very welcome. 100MB to all premises is indeed a great goal, but for how long will that be considered superfast?
"In an industry that operates within an RPI minus environment, we need to develop a mechanism to better incentivise communication providers to invest in delivering beyond 100MB, truly superfast connectivity at 500MB and beyond to 1GB."
Ronan Kelly, CTO of global broadband access specialist ADTRAN, said that while the government's latest spiel is "encouraging", it's still obvious that broadband development remains an afterthought.
"Will the party promising most on broadband get the keys to 10 Downing Street? It seems unlikely; broadband isn't featuring as more than a fringe issue compared to matters like keeping the UK’s membership of the European Union.
"But perhaps the electorate and the politicians are looking at it the wrong way because health and education services, local transport infrastructure, job security and stable economic growth remain key battleground issues for every party's campaign.
"Each of these is massively influenced by the presence of robust, ubiquitous superfast broadband infrastructure, and that's important because this is infrastructure that the UK doesn’t really have right now.
"The UK lags behind many other European countries in average broadband speeds, and in the latest FTTH Council ranking of FTTB/FTTH nations, the UK doesn’t even meet the one percent penetration threshold to qualify."
Kelly added that given the government's poor track record, no one should be holding their breath over its latest plans.
"No one yet seems sure whether current plans to see through a pilot project of providing the final five percent with basic broadband coverage by 2020 will be honoured in the next parliament, or the strategy to reach 95 percent broadband deployment to premises by 2017.
"Progress has been frustrating for many communities where broadband really has become an election issue."
Others weren't quite so negative, arguing that the government's proposals were a step in the right direction.
Ewan Taylor-Gibson, broadband expert at uSwitch.com, told us: "George Osborne’s ambition to improve broadband infrastructure across the UK is welcome news - especially for those who, even in 2015, are blighted by a poor or non-existent broadband connection.
"The proposals are an important step towards making broadband, now regarded as an essential service, available to all, rather than most." µ
What are you views on the government's plan to bring 100Mbps broadband to all? Let us know in the comments below.
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