By Ronan Kelly, CTO, EMEA & APAC Regions for ADTRAN
Prime Minister David Cameron and thousands of other candidates will stand for election to the UK parliament on May 7th as the British public chooses its 650 local MPs and decides who will form a new national government for the next five years.
Will the party promising most on broadband get the keys to 10 Downing Street?
It seems unlikely; broadband isn’t featuring as more than a fringe issue compared to matters like keeping the UK’s membership of the European Union.
But perhaps the electorate and the politicians are looking at it the wrong way because health and education services, local transport infrastructure, job security and stable economic growth remain key battleground issues for every party’s campaigns. Each of these is massively influenced by the presence of robust, ubiquitous superfast broadband infrastructure! And that’s important because this is infrastructure that the UK doesn’t really have right now.
The UK lags behind many other European countries in average broadband speeds, largely because of the lack — until very recently — of mass rollouts of superfast deep-fibre broadband infrastructure. In the latest FTTH Council ranking of FTTB/FTTH nations, the UK doesn’t even meet the 1% penetration threshold to qualify, while countries like Lithuania, Bulgaria and Macedonia do.
Successive UK governments have promised to arrest this imbalance by stimulating investment in broadband infrastructure — particularly in ‘hard to reach’ rural areas — and progress has been frustrating for many communities where broadband really has become an election issue.
No one yet seems sure whether current plans to see through a pilot project of providing the final 5% with basic broadband coverage by 2020 will be honoured in the next parliament. Or the strategy to reach 95% broadband deployment to premises by 2017…
Anne McIntosh MP, who heads up the UK parliamentary committee on rural affairs, said this recently: "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.”
With BT and Virgin Media locked in an arms race for faster and faster speeds across the country - and many other providers committed to next generation and even Gigabit levels - the future looks encouraging for UK broadband. For many in rural areas, the future seems less certain. Here, superfast broadband has stopped being thought of as a privilege and is now considered a citizen’s right.