Government Insists Universal Broadband Targets Will Be Met

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Culture secretary Maria Miller says the government will have 90 percent of the country superfast by the end of 2015

The government has insisted that it will meet its broadband pledges by 2015, despite delays to fibre deployment contracts after a European Commission investigation into the entire BDUK process.

It was back in May 2011 that the government promised that the UK would have the ‘best’ superfast broadband in Europe by 2015. It aims to achieve download speeds of 24Mbps for 90 percent of the UK’s 28.8 million households by that date. It also pledged that all British homes will be connected to at least 2Mbps broadband by 2015.

Government Grilling

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller, told Parliament this week that the government will meet these promises, despite delays to the BDUK process following the European probe, and the withdrawal of Fujitsu from the BDUK scheme that has left BT as the sole remaining supplier.

Maria Miller Culture SecretarySpeaking in Parliament on Thursday, Miller fielded a number of questions on the broadband rollout in the UK.

Two thirds of premises in the UK now have superfast broadband available. Some 100,000 more homes and businesses are getting coverage every week and average speeds have increased from 5.2 megabits in May 2010 to 12 megabits by November 2012,” Miller said in response to one question.

But Labour’s Harriet Harman was not about to let Miller’s reassurance go unchallenged.

“Everyone knows that having access to decent-speed broadband is vital to businesses and people’s work and home life and it needs to be in all areas,” Harman said. “…The Government promised superfast broadband by the end of 2015, but there is growing concern that they will not meet that target,” she said. “Can the Secretary of State assure the House that those concerns are wrong and that she is on track to meet the Government’s target of 90 percent of premises getting superfast broadband by 2015?”

Miller then insisted that the government target will be met.

“The difference between the right hon. and learned Lady and me is that she may put forward warm words, but this Government are actually putting forward practical interventions,” said Miller. “Not only with our commitment to 2 megabits universally, but through our urban project and our rural broadband project, we are actually delivering for the people of this country.”

“More than two thirds of premises now have access to superfast broadband, so perhaps it is little wonder that the people of this country bought so many goods and services online in 2011 – we bought more than any other major economy,” she said. “Broadband has a fantastic role to play, and we are making sure it reaches more and more households. Indeed, it will reach 10 million more households by the end of this Parliament.”

Troubled Rollout

The government’s handling of the broadband issue in the UK has faced some fierce criticism in the past. Last July for example a House of Lords committee slammed the government’s strategy to roll out superfast broadband in the UK, saying it was preoccupied with speed and not about ensuring decent access for those trapped in the broadband slow lane.

Labour has previously accused the government of neglecting rural communities, saying last November that rural broadband speeds are less than half of those in cities and towns.

Labour’s stats were based only on homes with at least some sort of Internet connection and found that a quarter of premises in the UK received less than 2Mbps. The average speed in urban areas was 14.6Mbps, compared to just 5.9Mbps in rural areas.

And matters were not helped when in November communications minister Ed Vaizey admitted before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee that the government’s 2015 deadline for superfast broadband in the UK was a “challenging target”.

The admission that the government was under pressure because of its own targets was surprising, considering that the previous month, speaking at the Huawei Broadband Forum in London, Vaizey had said the government was still on track to meet its target of having the best broadband in Europe by 2015.

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