BT’s chief executive Gavin Patterson has emerged today with a laundry list of promises designed to improve broadband speeds, coverage and public confidence in the UK. First up is a commitment to a new, minimum broadband speed of 5-10Mbps, which the company claims will be enough for people to “enjoy popular internet services like high definition video.” The idea to push for a minimum standard was actually introduced by the UK government earlier this year. BT’s involvement is a crucial statement of support, although at the moment there’s no timeframe as to when it’ll be introduced or even feasible. There’s also the matter of the speeds themselves — 5Mbps, most would argue, isn’t enough to support a family or a group of flatmates that regularly use the internet simultaneously.
To introduce such a proposal, Britain needs stable, extensive broadband coverage. The government’s current target is to offer 2Mbps to everyone in the UK and at least 24Mbps to 95 percent of the population by 2017. Patterson claims that BT will go “further and faster” in relation to these targets, however, through a funding mechanism called “success dividend” clauses. In short, some broadband infrastructure is currently funded by a mixture of BT, central government and local government money. If more customers than expected end up using this capacity, BT has to reinvest or return some of the funding — £130 million has already been released this way. Patterson says it’s now “potentially available” to increase the UK’s coverage target to 96 percent, although we’ll have to wait and see if that materialises. BT already has a plan to make it happen though — Patterson hinted at a new satellite broadband service that will launch this year and connect remote parts of the UK.
All of this should create a broad base of usable, if not blazingly fast internet. At the other end of the spectrum, BT is trialling Fibre To The Distribution Point (FTTdp), commonly referred to as “G.fast,” which could jack up the slower speeds experienced by some existing customers. The company is aiming for “a few hundred megabits per second” initially, with plans to raise the speeds to 500Mbps over time. In January, it said this ultrafast broadband would be available to “most of the UK” within a decade. Now, Patterson is improving that target — he says the technology, along with some superior Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) provision, will connect 10 million homes and small businesses by 2020, before supplying “the majority” of UK premises by the end of the decade.
These announcements come at a pivotal time for BT. The UK communications regulator Ofcom is in the middle of its “Strategic Review of Digital Communications,” the last of which forced BT to create Openreach, its broadband infrastructure division. The current review is looking at the two again, and whether they should be separated entirely — something BT, unsurprisingly, is keen to avoid. Sky, Vodafone, TalkTalk and others banded together only yesterday to argue that the review should be bumped up to the Competition and Markets Authority. It’s no secret that they want the pair split up, so BT is doing everything in its power to show that the current arrangement is still the best option for the UK. A heap of new promises to improve broadband provision is likely just the start of its fightback.
[Image Credit: PjrTravel / Alamy]