This morning I came close to running a story that would have claimed the government had u-turned on a pledge to provide superfast – 24Mbps and above – broadband to every home in the country by 2020. This was after stories appeared in both The Times and The Telegraph saying that the government had given up on the idea of automatically meeting the needs of the final 5%, those left out of the commercial and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) roll-outs.
These stories, and a number of others, were based on a month-and-a-half old consultation document put out by the government, consulting on plans for a universal service obligation (USO) of 10Mbps, which I covered at the time.
In the consultation document, the government did indeed say that an additional broadband roll-out to the final 5% was not proportionate and would not represent value. This is because it was unlikely on the evidence available that every single one of them would want it. Hence the idea of a 10Mbps USO which should it go ahead, those who want it will be able to request and receive.
The thing is, this is not a u-turn as such, because while the needs of the final 5% have been disgracefully neglected by the government, the document merely notes that given the cost to the taxpayer in reaching those remote places, the government believes it makes more sense to establish a request-based scheme to reach them.
Furthermore, it may be that eventual technological advances will bring down the cost of deployment and make a universal roll-out more cost-effective, we simply don’t know yet. Researchers at UCL reckon they’ve hit on a way to reduce the costs with a new type of optical receiver, so work is going on here.
And all this is without considering the money that BT is putting back into the BDUK roll-out as a result of hitting its take-up targets. It hopes this will extend the programme beyond 95%.
In essence, nothing has yet been decided, let alone u-turned upon.
Look, it is right that the government is held to account over the state of the rural broadband roll-out, and it is absolutely not right that 10Mbps will be sufficient. Actually, I think 10Mbps is laughable and David Cameron and Ed Vaizey should be ashamed of themselves for even considering something so unambitious.
This is an emotive issue, particularly for those that want and cannot receive a broadband connection, but I have always believed it does one’s cause no good at all to base arguments on provable inaccuracies.