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Councils call for 'flexible' minimum broadband speeds

Wednesday, May 11th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

The minimum broadband speed set by the government should be flexible so it can rise as average speeds do, councils have suggested.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils, said the government should create a more flexible national minimum standard of broadband speed.

The move is hoped to prevent hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses falling into a ‘digital twilight zone’.

The LGA is launching a campaign dubbed Up to Speed, which will fight to make sure every resident and business has access to faster broadband.

It includes a new speed test app which enables users to test their broadband and compare it with other speeds in their area.

In November, David Cameron pledged to give people the legal right to request a broadband connection of 10Mbps, no matter where they live, and a consultation into a proposed Universal Service Obligation (USO) is underway.

But digital minister Ed Vaizey last month admitted there could be “a potential cap” on how much funding would be available for a connection if it were to cost “many, many thousands of pounds.”

And more recently, the government has been accused of backtracking on a promise to roll out superfast broadband to the so-called ‘final 5%’ of the country.

The LGA said its campaign comes as research shows nearly half of homes and businesses in rural areas can’t get broadband speeds of 10Mbps.

It said many remote rural areas have well below 2Mbps during key times such as when children get home, during school holidays and after 6pm.

'Obsolete'

The LGA said the government’s pledge was a “significant step” in the right direction, but a fixed download speed of 10Mbps could easily become outdated.

It is also calling for clarification on whether the government will specify a minimum performance for other elements, like upload speed.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: "There is a real concern that as the broadband needs among households and businesses in rural areas grow they will be left lagging behind because the national minimum standard quickly becomes obsolete.

"This is why it is paramount the minimum standard is constantly monitored and reviewed and it keeps track with national average speeds and that speeds users experience at peak times are still within minimum standards.

“Without this there is the real possibility of some areas – particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas – falling into a digital twilight zone.”

Mr Hawthorne said broadband was a “major driver” for growth and jobs, as well as a key way of helping housebound residents live independently.

"Achieving 10Mbps should just be the start and something to build on because demand for and availability of faster speeds continues to grow,” he added.

“For the farmer applying for funding, the small business processing its invoices or the GP checking the availability of medicines, broadband is communities' lifeblood.

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