The government's EC broadband consultation response is truly pathetic

Last Friday, just after 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the government published a series of responses to a number of European Commission (EC) consultations around the Digital Single Market.

Personally, I can’t imagine why a government as committed to openness and frank discussion as Prime Minister Cameron’s would want to put out important announcements just after the country’s journalists have headed off to the pub, but that’s just me. I’m sure he must have an excellent reason for it. Either that or he’s a fan of the West Wing.

Anyway, one of these consultations centred on the future needs around broadband speed and quality, issues of vital importance to the digital economy as regular reader will know.

The Commission sought input on the following points:

  • Network access regulation: The review will assess whether the regulatory objectives are still fit for purpose or whether they should be complemented with a stronger emphasis on availability and take-up of high-quality connectivity as a policy objective. It will ask whether the operators who are investing significant amounts of money in the very highest capacity networks need greater assurances of a long-term return on investment. The difficulty in relying on infrastructure competition to drive network investment in more rural areas points to a possible need to reassess the appropriate degree of complementarity between sector-specific access regulation and other measures which could enable efficient public intervention.
  • Spectrum management: to promote the deployment of high speed wireless networks and the further development of electronic communications and innovation, the review should focus on how greater consistency could be achieved by different means and through different levels of harmonisation or coordination (more efficient technical harmonisation; more convergent assignment conditions and timing to support investment);
  • Communication Services: to look at ways of updating sector-specific rules if they are still needed, while ensuring a level regulatory playing field for all players to the extent that they provide comparable services.
  • Universal service: the review will evaluate whether the current scope of mandatory services is consistent with market and technological developments. In particular, the role of broadband as part of universal service and its implications for the financing mechanism will have to be carefully assessed.
  • Institutional set-up and governance: this covers the need to enhance regulatory consistency across the Member States and to deliver convergent market outcomes while taking account of different local and national conditions. The review will explore more efficient and simpler arrangements for co-operation between regulators at EU and national level.

Our own government, however, decided it was going to set its own homework, and duly turned in the year-old results of a UK-specific consultation that formed the basis of a digital communications strategy first announced in March 2015.

We will now summarise the UK government’s contribution:

  • We used to have dial-up. Now, not so much.
  • The Internet of Things. That’s a thing.
  • Demand is growing.
  • Here are statistics from a friendly analyst that says this with numbers.
  • Nobody we bothered to ask cares about speed.
  • Everybody we bothered to ask has a vested interest in not delivering FTTP.
  • Moaners will get stuck with satellite.
  • Private investment good. Austerity good.

Which is exactly the same thing they’ve been saying all along, brings nothing new to the conversation and, one more thing, even BT Openreach execs will agree that FTTP is the right solution if asked the right question – it’s true, I’ve seen them do it. No consensus my a***!

Frankly, it’s an embarrassment to the country, and the ministers responsible at BIS and DCMS should feel ashamed for trying to pass off last year’s science project as something new.