The Government needs to re-affirm its commitment to a national minimum broadband speed across the country to stop hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses falling into a “digital twilight zone”, councils have urged.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said a timetable for action from the government is now needed after delays to the Digital Economy Bill and the Government’s Digital Strategy – and as Matt Hancock replaced Ed Vaizey as Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The DCMS has estimated that the number of households that will be unable to access a 10Mbps (Megabits per second) service by 2017 is likely to be as high as one million, with 100,000 of those in remote rural areas.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says access to fast and reliable digital connectivity is a necessity for households and businesses in the UK. It recently launched an ‘Up to Speed’ campaign to ensure every resident and business has access to faster broadband.
Councils have played a big role in the extension of digital connectivity to households through the Superfast Broadband Programme. Around £740m of the £1.7bn invested in this has come from local government. Many councils are aiming to beat the government’s national target of 95% coverage of premises by December 2017. Councils are also working to find solutions to extend provision to those in the final five percent.
The government has pledged to give everybody the legal right to request a broadband connection capable of delivering a minimum download speed of 10Mbps by 2020. This speed roughly allows a family to watch a high-definition film and a catch-up TV programme and make a video call simultaneously. Currently, speeds in many remote rural areas fall well below 2Mbps during key periods, such as when children get home from school, during holidays and after 6pm.
Supporting the plans
Local government leaders support the government’s planned creation of a national minimum broadband speed as part of a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband users but are calling for a safety net for those who are unlikely to be covered by roll out plans.
Legislate is also requested for the USO’s minimum speed to be reviewed at appropriate intervals and upgraded when necessary. The USO specification should define minimum levels of provision for a range of factors, shifting the focus away from headline speeds, which can be misleading, towards other indicators, including upload speed, that provide a more realistic way of determining an internet connection’s quality.
Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, file tax returns and access their bank accounts. As central and local government services increasingly become ‘digital by default’, more people will need to have faster and more reliable speeds.
“It is paramount that the government maintains momentum and presses ahead with plans to enshrine the USO in law. We hope that the recent changes in Government do not delay work on the USO and call on ministers to reaffirm their commitment to it.”
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