Getting broadband out to the hardest to reach

via Flickr © Alison Christine (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Alison Christine (CC BY 2.0)

  • The UK government knows the political risks involved in broadband subsidy programmes.  
  • That’s why it’s asked for help and participation
  • The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) and consultancy Analysys Mason have answered the call and have just produced report on the choices facing it

The UK’s Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) says it has compiled some interesting (and helpful) research on the practicalities of providing broadband coverage in areas in the UK that are the hardest to reach. The primary research was undertaken by UK consultancy Analysys Mason and the BSG says it adds significantly to the evidence base available to decide on the most cost-effective subsidy programme for the government to apply. 

That, of course, is the main sticking point. 

In the US the industry has tied itself in knots over this set of issues. The broadband map fiasco was and is, just one problem. The entire question of subsidy and how it should be controlled runs straight down the US political fault-line like a gaping wound, with some states totally hostile to any move to involve municipal authorities in public network building even where the existing infrastructure is woefully inadequate. 

The UK doesn’t have that particular political problem, but it does have ongoing arguments over how subsidy (or government interference, if you like) should be administered cost effectively, which is where the BSG and Analysys come in. 

The report provides details of a wide range of broadband technologies, including fixed and wireless, terrestrial and non-terrestrial that could be deployed in the UK between 2021 and 2027, for the government to consider. 

In fact, it may be the sheer profusion of different ways to tackle the rural and remote broadband problem that makes the whole field a bit of a political minefield. The scope for getting hauled over the political coals for getting things wrong is considerable. 

The report says that the Government’s stated ambition is to ensure that at least 85% of UK premises have access to gigabit-capable broadband by 2025 and for 80% of that coverage to be delivered commercially. For the 20% expected to be beyond commercial deployments, £5 billion funding is being allocated to support the delivery of gigabitbroadband through Project Gigabit.  The Analysys Mason Report (Report) details a wide range of broadband technologies, including fixed and wireless, terrestrial and non terrestrial that could be deployed in the UK between 2021 and 2027. The Report also provides an assessment of the ability to deliver either 30 Mbit/s or 300 Mbit/s download speeds.

The full report can be found here. but here are the key recommendations:

The Report says the government should consider innovative approaches. For example: procurements should define large enough blocks to allow network providers to scale effectively; 

Public funding should be allocated for both capital and operational expenditures, including ongoing funding of satellite monthly rental.

While most of the Very Hard to Reach Premises have similar characteristics (i.e. geographic isolation), there is great diversity between each of them, so a mix of technologies will therefore be required. 

The BSG urges the Government to continue tackling existing barriers that impede the general roll-out of new terrestrial infrastructures. Ambitious reforms to lower the cost and speed up the process of building and upgrading digital infrastructures including backhaul capacity are critical to allow stakeholders to increase the footprint of their commercial deployment. Examples include wayleaves, permits and land rents.  Such interventions might actually reduce the number of premises within the very hard to reach category. 

Finally, it points out that the stated Government policy and subsidies so far have focused almost exclusively on gigabit speed. The BSG believes that businesses and consumers value the other aspects of digital connectivity at least as much as they value speed. In particular, the BSG recommends that availability, accessibility, reliability and  resilience of digital services are addressed, as well as speed.

Download the full report here.

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