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Government promises 100Mbps broadband for 'nearly' everyone

Wednesday, March 18th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The government has announced it aims to bring broadband speeds of at least 100Mbps to nearly all homes in the country.

In his budget speech today, Chancellor George Osborne told the Commons: “We’re committing to a new national ambition to bring ultrafast broadband of at least 100 megabits per second to nearly all homes in the country, so Britain is out in front.”

Mr Osborne told MPs that more than 80% of the population now has access to superfast broadband – defined as speeds of 24Mbps or more.

He also said there are six million 4G customers in the UK, made possible by the government auctioning spectrum – the frequencies used by mobile network operators.

Setting out a telecoms infrastructure strategy for the future, the chancellor said: “We’ll use up to £600 million to clear new spectrum bands for further auction, so we improve mobile networks.

“We’ll test the latest satellite technology so we reach the remotest communities.

“We’ll provide funding for wi-fi in our public libraries, and expand broadband vouchers to many more cities, so no-one is excluded.”

The government is also looking to raise the Universal Service Obligation (USO) – the legal entitlement to a basic service – from dial up speeds to 5Mbps broadband.

Once in place, a USO would mean consumers gain a legal right to request installation of 5Mbps services at an affordable price.

Oliver Johnson, CEO of market intelligence firm Point Topic, told Cable.co.uk it is good that broadband and internet access have moved up the agenda in the UK.

'Cause for optimism'

“The language the Chancellor used is more focused than we have heard in the past and suggests the government has been learning at least some of its lessons," said Mr Johnson.

“We applaud the overall objectives but we'll wait for the details on budget and process before throwing our hats in the air.”

He said there is still more to be done for city centres and businesses, as well as those who are socially or economically excluded.

“The detail already presented, along with commitments that have been already fulfilled, does give us cause for optimism.

“That said – given the returns you get, in terms of better tax base for example, when you up the bandwidth in an area – the commitments could have been a lot bolder.”

Greg Mesch, CEO of gigabit broadband provider CityFibre, said the announcement on broadband underpins the importance of digital infrastructure to the UK economy.

"For too long, businesses across the country have struggled to grow and compete, suffocated by combination of both access infrastructure and lack of bandwidth.

"All the evidence shows that high-speed digital connectivity is essential to the success of a country."

He welcomed the government's ultrafast ambition, but said the target of 100Mbps was "too low".

“As the British economy becomes more digitally based, it is vital that even faster Gigabit speeds are achieved.”

'Level playing field'

Mr Mesch said in infrastructure terms, the UK communications market is under performing, with one of the lowest shares of fibre-connected buildings in Europe.

“Investment in fibre infrastructure is critical for sustainable economic growth and future prosperity.

“Therefore, it is vital the government does all it can to encourage a competitive environment for fibre investment.

“A level playing field that enables the new generation of fibre infrastructure builders to invest in ultrafast broadband networks will generate greater levels of innovation, services, and growth for towns and cities across the UK.”

Today’s announcement comes after the Labour Party’s digital advisory group Labour Digital called for 1Gbps connections to all UK homes, businesses and public buildings.

The influential group of digital experts and MPs used the party’s annual conference to promote a five-year strategy to transform the UK into the world’s leading digital economy and society.

BT has announced that it is testing new technology known as ‘G.Fast’ – a combination of fibre and conventional copper wires – to help roll out ultrafast broadband speeds across the UK over the next decade.

The telecoms giant expects to offer initial speeds of a few hundred megabits per second to millions of homes and businesses by 2020.

Speeds will then increase to around 500Mbps as further industry standards are secured and new kit is developed.

The technology will be tested in two pilot locations this summer ahead of deployment in 2016.

But Gigabit broadband providers previously told Cable.co.uk that G.fast is "simply not viable for the kind of speeds the country needs to be economically successful".

Additional reporting by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

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