Government: we’re not obsessed by broadband speeds

The Government has denied it’s obsessed with broadband speeds over issues such as wider access.

Government: we're not obsessed by broadband speeds

At the end of July, a Lords select committee released a report criticising the government’s broadband rollout plans, accusing it of being “in thrall” to private firms and focusing too heavily on speeds over access and affordability.

The government as now issued its response, refusing calls to open up “dark fibre” and passing competition concerns over to regulator Ofcom, as well as saying “current policy is not built around precise speed targets”.

That may come as a surprise to those following the government’s broadband policy, which hinges on a promise to deliver at least 24Mbits/sec to 90% of the UK, and 2Mbits/sec to the rest, by 2015.

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The fastest broadband in Europe? No, minister

Despite repeatedly naming those speeds throughout its own document, it said the 24Mbits/sec was chosen because it is the top speed achievable by ADSL2+ technology over copper lines, not because of the speed itself.

“Superfast broadband therefore represents a step change in terms of capability compared to what was generally available to consumers in 2010,” the report notes, adding the minimum 2Mbits/sec is “based on the delivery of a basic capability rather than a focus on a specific speed”.

“We do believe this [speed] is an important factor – not because it is attractive for sloganeers, but because it has a definite impact on how consumers use the internet and is something that consumers identify with and can measure easily,” it added.

The government’s other promise – to have the “best” broadband in Europe – is harder to quantify, but the report suggested it would look at access, competition, and price. Ofcom will release its first “European scorecard” on broadband by the end of the year.

Headline speeds

Of course, headline broadband speeds are famously inaccurate. The Lords report called for the targets to refer to “minimum and median levels of service” – a recommendation the government also refused.

“Whilst the government recognises that headline speed is not always an accurate indicator for the speeds received, due to other issues such as contention, interference and home wiring issues, we believe headline speed offers consumers an indication of the speed that will typically be received,” the report said.

An OECD ranking in July said the average advertised broadband speed in the UK was 34.4Mbits/sec, while Ofcom’s latest actual speeds average was 9Mbits/sec.

The government also refused many of the Lords’ recommendations, including its call for dark fibre to be opened up as a funding requirement, giving Ofcom control over infrastructure access, and creating fibre hubs for communities to connect into, with that idea declared too expensive.

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