Thursday, 15 October 2015

Calls for a Government “Not-Spot” Debate

Over the last five years, the UK government has been working hard to ensure that its goal of ninety-five per cent of households being connected to superfast broadband by 2017 is met. The whole effort has been in contract with just one company – BT.

However, on October 12th (2015) the House of Commons debated the matter of inadequate broadband coverage that still blights swathes of the country. The issue of the success (or not, as the case may be!) of the government roll-out was also up for debate. As of the time of this writing, the outcome of the session is as yet unknown. Nevertheless, a feisty affair was expected.

What is a “Not-Spot”?

Before we continue, it may be prudent to explain what a “not-spot” is. According to the Macmillan Dictionary, a not-spot is “an area that has no broadband internet or 3G mobile phone coverage, or where this is very slow and unreliable.”

The issue for many of the MPs that attended the House of Commons’ debate, and one of the reasons for the call for a not-spot summit, is the question of if the government’s broadband strategy is working as well as BT’s future as the contracted party.

What about BT’s Future?

Let us elaborate a little on the BT question. The contract between BT and the government was worth a total of £830 million to the company and, although some local campaigners disagree, for the most part everyone else agrees that the UK is actually one of the leaders in Europe when it comes to broadband availability, implementation and pricing.

The issues arising, though, championed by BT’s rivals, are the company’s continued use of copper. Many feel that this ‘betrays’ Britain’s broadband ambitions and that it should be all about fibre optics. Although BT does use fibre optics (upon which superfast broadband depends) as far as the street cabinet, from there it is connected to homes via copper cabling.

To Copper or Not to Copper

BT has thus far been extolling the virtues of its copper network, claiming that not only has it proved adaptable, but new technology (known as g.fast) promises to push speeds to over 300MBps.

BT’s competitors are not convinced, though… and it all boils down to competition. They say that adopting fibre optics across the board will open up the industry to competition, which will then improve service and mean more money is invested in the network. Their answer is that BT should be split up by having to sell its OpenReach arm to allow such competition. BT obviously disagrees, 
stating that its current ‘innovations’ might stop occurring.

Ofcom is apparently looking into this and, at the moment, is ‘open-minded’.

The government itself would be against any splitting up of the company, citing the fact that, if it were to transpire, it would be incredibly time-consuming… with the potential to backfire.

It will be interesting to see how all of this pans out, especially in terms of the UK’s current not-spots. Until then, it will be fascinating to watch both sides of the debate bang their heads together.

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