House Of Lords To Investigate Government Broadband Plans

The House of Lords is to investigate the Government’s claims about superfast broadband in the UK

The Government’s controversial plans to roll out superfast broadband in the UK are to be put under the spotlight by the House of Lords.

The analysis will be carried out by the Select Committee on Communications for the House of Lords, after it issued a Call For Evidence, to gather feedback from interested parties about the government’s BDUK, which is seeking to drive superfast broadband into areas that would not normally see a fibre deployment.

Broadband Probe

Specifically, the Committee is going to cast its critical eye over the Government’s ambitious claims, made in 2010, that the UK will have “the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015.”

The following Youtube video explains the reasons for the inquiry.

The government believes that its commitment of £530 million to BDUK, to drive the roll-out of superfast broadband to the third of UK homes and businesses that would otherwise miss out, is enough money. That money has already been divided between the various county councils, unitary authorities etc, all of whom will have to bid for their share of the fund, but also come up with their own funding as well, at a time when many frontline council services being cut.

The government believes that under its current strategy, 90 percent of the UK population should have access to a broadband connection of 25Mbps by 2015, and that everyone should have a minimum of 2Mbps or greater.

BDUK Concerns

The government’s rhetoric on broadband and its commitment to these minimum speeds, whilst sounding laudable, have raised a few eyebrows among industry experts and observers. Simply put, many do not believe the £530m of public money is enough cash to make good this commitment.

BT in comparison is spending upto £2.5 billion in order to roll out fibre to around two thirds of UK homes by 2015.

BT is quite rightly opting for the easy and most profitable option by mostly targeting highly populated areas where there is often more ducting infrastructure available, thereby making the fibre deployment somewhat easier than in semi-rural, or rural areas where there is a real lack of ducting availability to support a fibre deployment.

But this approach means the UK will face the very real prospect of a digital divide in the UK, with cities and towns enjoying superfast broadband speeds, whilst those in semi rural or rural locations stuck firmly in the broadband slow lane.

Call For Evidence

Into this argument steps the House of Lords. Its call for evidence on the matter is seeking written evidence (a maximum of six pages per submission), which must be submitted by Tuesday 13th March 2012.

“Superfast broadband is clearly an important development across Britain, not just for economic growth but also because it will impact on how people do things such as view media content, shop and even access healthcare,” said Lord Inglewood, Chairman of the Communications Committee.

“We want to look into the Government’s proposals to find out if its targets are likely to be met and whether it is being ambitious enough in its plans,” he added. “Issues such as investment, Britain’s market in fibre optic products and whether the advances in broadband provision will require regulatory changes are all things that need to be looked at to ensure the strategy works.”

Typical questions that are being asked are:

  • “What is being done to prevent a greater digital divide occurring between people who can access superfast broadband and people in areas where the roll-out of superfast broadband may not be commercially attractive?”
  • “The Government has committed £530 million to help stimulate private investment – is this enough and is it being effectively applied to develop maximum social and economic benefit?”
  • “Will the Government’s targets be met and are they ambitious enough? What speed of broadband do we need and what drives demand for superfast broadband?”
  • “Does the UK, for example, have a properly competitive market in wholesale fibre connectivity?”

All these questions do not need to answered by those tempted to respond, and for a full list of the questions, readers are advised to go here.