The culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has set a target of ‘superfast’ broadband for 90 percent of UK citizens by 2015
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced the government’s ambition to provide superfast broadband to 90 percent of the UK by 2015.
The government defines superfast broadband as at least 25Mbps – a speed only dreamed of in many rural areas of the country. This is significantly more ambitious than Hunt’s previous promise, which he reiterated at yesterday’s Race Online 2012 event, to roll out 2Mbps broadband to all British homes by 2015.
“If we press ahead with expansion of superfast capabilities, then we can put the UK in the global fast-lane,” said Hunt. “If we fail to do so then we apply a handbrake to growth precisely when we need to power ahead.”
An unrealistic target?
The government has already pledged £530 million to support the roll-out of superfast broadband to the third of UK homes and businesses that would otherwise miss out. The money will be divided between county councils, unitary authorities and local enterprise partnerships, all of whom will have to bid for their share of the fund.
The private sector, meanwhile, is expected to cater for the other two thirds of the country, in an attempt to create “the best superfast broadband network in Europe”.
The government’s proposals have been met with scepticism from some members of the industry, who see the 90 percent target as unrealistic.
“We know from carrying out millions of speed tests across the UK that there are massive variations in broadband speed from one street to the next,” said Alex Buttle, director of broadband comparison website Top10.com, speaking to The Telegraph.
“At the moment, only 9.6 percent of speed tests carried out over the last 30 days by consumers using our broadband speed test are faster than 20Mbps, while the average UK download speed is just 8.14Mbps.”
Meanwhile Rob Benson, a director at local internet provider Sonic Internet, told the Register that smaller ISPs are struggling to get funding for broadband rollout in rural areas. “From our experience the funding available is going mostly to the likes of Virgin and BT who will still find it financially unfeasible to supply the areas that we can,” he said.
Boosting business in rural areas
Last month, prime minister David Cameron stressed the importance of improving the broadband infrastructure in rural Britain in a Prime Minister’s Question Time session.
“Particularly in rural areas, broadband is going to be absolutely vital in driving the creation of the small businesses and growing businesses that will be so important to keep the growth of employment in our country. We must put investment in,” he said.
The government’s digital champion Martha Lane Fox is also working to help the last nine million digitally excluded UK citizens take their first click, as part of the Race Online scheme. Earlier this week she announced plans for a force of 100,000 volunteers to help others get online, using cheap recycled PCs starting at £95.
The campaign describes its aim as making the UK “the world’s first networked nation”, but the real pay-off for the government will be the option to discontinue costly paper-based administration, and move benefits claims, pensions and other services to cheaper, more efficient online versions.