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MPs: broadband targets are slipping and outdated

Committee of MPs raises fears over Britain's broadband rollout

A committee of MPs has hit out at slipping targets to provide the entire country with a basic broadband connection. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has been examining the government’s broadband targets with a specific focus on rural areas, which are often the last to be reached during broadband rollouts.

The government has currently pledged to ensure that every home and business in the country has access to a connection of at least 2Mbits/sec by the end of 2016, a target that was originally set for the end of this parliament (May 2015). The MPs are concerned that not only has the target slipped, but it will be effectively meaningless, because 2Mbits/sec is insufficient for services such as the BBC iPlayer.

“For many services, 2Mbits/sec is already an outdated figure, and 10Mbits/sec is increasingly recommended as a suitable USC [Universal Service Commitment] for standard provision,” the committee reported. “The Government must reassess whether the 2Mbits/sec Universal Service Commitment remains a valid one.”

The committee also expressed concern that so-called 2Mbits/sec connections weren’t even actually delivering that speed reliably, no doubt because of the contention and difficulties with long lines on ADSL connections. “In spite of what BT says about near universal basic coverage, written evidence to us suggests that in practice 2Mbits/sec is not delivered consistently,” the MPs concluded. “Recurring problems include poor speed at peak times and broadband ‘dropping in and out’, meaning that the connection sometimes fails completely.” 

 The MPs also raised fears about the government missing another broadband target: the aim to get 95% of premises connected to “superfast” broadband by 2017. This target has already been revised once, from 90% of premises by the end of 2015, and the MPs are concerned that even the revised target won’t be met, after hearing from a BT executive who said it may well slip into 2018. 

Repeated changes in target dates for rollout of superfast broadband inevitably reduce confidence that coverage will be achieved on time,” the MPs reported. “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.”

The committee said the government body responsible for the broadband rollout – BDUK – must ensure the 2017 target is met. 

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