Out-Law News 2 min. read

MPs to scrutinise delivery of 'superfast' broadband services across UK

Efforts to ensure everyone in the UK has access to a 'superfast' broadband service are to be scrutinised by a committee of MPs.

The Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee in the UK's parliament has opened an inquiry "into the coverage, delivery and performance of superfast broadband in the UK, and into progress being made in extending and improving mobile coverage and services". 'Superfast' broadband refers to internet speeds of at least 30 megabits per second (mbps).

The government has committed to delivering “near universal superfast broadband” across UK homes before the next general election in 2020. It follows earlier pledges by the previous coalition government to ensure that superfast broadband services are available to at least 90% of the UK by the end of 2015 and 95% of the UK by the end of 2017. The government is on target to meet its 90% coverage target by the end of 2016.

The CMS Committee said it is seeking evidence from industry on what "commercial, financial and technical challenges" they face in deploying the infrastructure necessary to ensure "the final 5%" of the country has access to superfast broadband services and what technologies can be used to overcome these barriers.

It said it wants stakeholders' opinion on the role the UK government and telecoms regulator Ofcom can play in "extending superfast broadband to hard-to-reach premises", as well as whether they think there is "sufficient competition in these markets".

Telecoms expert Simon Colvin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "The government is aware of the challenges involved in delivering superfast broadband services to the final 5% of the UK and has shown it is open to considering innovative ways to meet this objective. It has, for example, already engaged with suppliers trialling new technologies to assess whether they are appropriate for delivering superfast broadband to the most rural communities. The parliamentary review will bring further industry suggestions into the debate and ensure a range of solutions can be considered."

"The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has always taken a technology-neutral approach to broadband policy, and shown itself to be open to embracing new commercial funding models to improve the broadband services available to UK businesses and consumers. This is reflected in its ultrafast broadband policy and will be the government's position as it seeks to procure the best solutions to the challenge of completing the superfast broadband project," he said.

In its statement, the CMS Committee suggested that it might recommend through its inquiry that a new 'universal service obligation' (USO) for broadband services be established. It has asked for the broadband industry's views on what such a USO should look like. Colvin said that the continued dialogue between government, Ofcom and the wider industry would be key to considering this option and its potential impacts on both industry and consumers.

The Committee said it is also seeking evidence on whether the government should be investing more in research that has the aim of "finding innovative solutions to meet the communication needs of remote communities".

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