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MPs: Government broadband speed targets are 'outdated'

Tuesday, February 3rd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The government’s target for the minimum speeds of standard broadband are “outdated” and too low for the demands of modern technology, MPs have warned.

A new report from the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee also said that the focus on the rollout of superfast broadband could leave those without any connection at all even further behind.

The report Rural Broadband and Digital-Only Services, published today, said the committee fears that hard-to-reach areas are being overlooked in the race to roll out superfast broadband.

The government’s ambition is to bring basic broadband, deemed as speeds of 2Mbps and above, to everyone in the country by 2016. Its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme aims to provide superfast broadband (speeds of 24Mbps and above) to 90% of the UK by 2016, extending to 95% by the end of the following year.

But in today’s report, the EFRA committee said the 2Mbps speed for standard broadband is too slow and must be reassessed.

'Outdated'

Chair Anne McIntosh (Con – Thirsk and Malton) said: “The Universal Service Commitment of 2Mbps is already outdated.

“This is a minimum speed commitment to the public and it must reflect modern technological demands, it is not high enough; 10 Mbps is a more suitable target.

“Further, it should be regularly reviewed to ensure the UK does not slip behind other European countries.”

The report comes just days after America's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it is updating its benchmark for broadband to 25Mbps from the 4Mbps set in 2010.

Today's EFRA committee report raised concerns that the current approach to the UK’s broadband rollout risks widening the gap between those with superfast speeds, and those with no broadband at all, leaving a minority with little or no ability to use increasingly 'online-only' government services.

“People living in the hard-to-reach 5% of premises need the same access as the rest to online and digital services,” Miss McIntosh said.

The committee said although the government's aim is for 95% of premises to have superfast speeds by 2017, BT had told it that that target might slip into 2018.

'Inaccurate assumptions'

Miss McIntosh added: “We are concerned that the current broadband rollout targets are based on inaccurate assumptions that universal basic broadband coverage has largely been achieved when the reality is that many rural communities are still struggling with no access, or slow broadband speeds.

In December the Country Landowners Association (CLA) told the committee that farmers and businesses were disadvantaged by slow broadband, while the Tenant Farmers Association said people in remote areas were being left in a digital “no man’s land”.

Responding to the MPs' findings, CLA president Henry Robinson agreed that 2Mbps is too slow for modern requirements.

“It is clear that rural areas have fallen behind. If the Government is serious about levelling the playing field it must listen to MPs and prioritise hardest-to-reach areas, even if this means diverting new investment into alternative technologies such as satellite.

Mike Cherry, national policy chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said recent FSB research found that nearly half of rural small firms are unhappy with their broadband provision.

"Considering that Ofcom recently discovered that just 16% of rural small businesses have access to superfast broadband services, this is hardly surprising," he said.

He said the FSB is calling for the introduction of universal speeds of 10Mbps by 2018/19, rising to a guaranteed minimum broadband speed of 100Mbps by 2030.

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