The Government yesterday firmed up its promise to bring broadband with a speed of up to 2Mbps to all UK homes by 2012.
In its Digital Britain report, published yesterday, it confirmed a universal service commitment for broadband, originally proposed in January, that will bring broadband to within reach of all parts of the UK. At present, 11% of UK broadband lines are unable to deliver a 2Mbps broadband service, and a significant minority of people are unable to get broadband at all.
Broadband speed slow spots and not spots
Gaps in current broadband supply – often called broadband not spots (no broadband at all) or slow spots (inability to achieve broadband speeds of up to 2Mbps) – are widespread across the UK. While most common in rural areas, they are recognised as a problem in some urban areas too.
The Digital Britain report has proposed a range of solutions to the broadband notspot or slow spot problem, from resolving any slow broadband speeds caused by equipment or problematic home wiring to upgrading entire phone network of a local area such that it is able to support faster broadband speed.
Bringing 2Mbps broadband to all homes in the UK will be achieved using £200 million in public funds left over from the digital switchover help scheme.
Welcome news for broadband have-nots
Which? broadband expert Ceri Stanaway says: ‘Broadband is an integral part of many consumers’ lives, and as new technologies like online TV take off, getting a decent and reliable broadband speed is an ever more important factor.
‘With broadband ISPs increasingly advertising broadband speeds of 20Mbps or even higher, the broadband universal service commitment will be welcome news for the millions of people who struggle to reach even 1Mbps or 2Mbps.
‘We hope that as part of its commitment the government ensures that fast broadband is not only available but also affordable, so that those on lower incomes are not left out of the broadband loop.’
In its report the government also acknowledged that the UK must continue to invest in improving its broadband infrastructure if it is to maintain and strengthen its position within the global economy.
BT and Virgin Media have already taken massive strides to implement superfast ‘next generation’ broadband access, and broadband speeds of up to 50Mbps are already a reality for some people.
But the Digital Britain report outlined concerns that unless the government intervenes, there will be a new broadband divide between those who can and cannot get these superfast broadband speeds.
50p broadband ‘tax’
To address the potential imbalance, the report proposes a 50p monthly surcharge on all fixed telephone lines to help bring next generation broadband to the whole country.
This money would go to an independent Next Generation Fund that would provide subsidies for operators to deliver superfast internet to areas where it would not normally be commercially viable.
This plan will mean many UK residents must pay a surcharge on their landline bills of £6 a year – low income households are exempt.
Speaking to the BBC, Digital Britain report author Lord Carter noted that in real terms, average UK telecoms bills have dropped significantly over the last few years and are likely to continue to fall. He believes that the 50p contribution is necessary to invest in the infrastructure that we need to develop as a country and ensure parts of the country are not left behind.
If you’re concerned about your phone bills going up, you can offset this by looking for ways to cut your telecoms bills – for example by using online billing, switching to a cheaper phone provider or bundling your phone and broadband services together with one provider.