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UK still in slow lane despite Ofcom’s superfast boast, say business bods

Business leaders believe that the UK is still in the slow lane when it comes to superfast broadband access. 

In an open letter to Ofcom, Chairmen of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in the UK told the regulator that Ofcom’s recent ranking of the UK as number one was selective and “leaves the public and businesses less well informed as to the reality of UK broadband coverage.” 

Alex Pratt, chairman of Buckinghamshire Business First and Frank Nigrello, chairman Oxfordshire Business First  said that Ofcom used a higher threshold speed of 30Mbps, when the BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) project will see people connected to superfast speeds of at least 24Mbps. 

UK still in slow lane despite Ofcom's superfast boast, say business bods
Business leaders slam the state of superfast availability in the UK

While some homes and businessess benefitting from BDUK will get speeds above 24Mbps and 30Mbps, depending on their proximity to the street cabinet, Pratt and Nigrello say this still puts the UK behind other countries where gigabit speeds are ubiquitous. 

“At the same time, it ambitiously deems over 70 per cent of UK premises as having access to such speeds. In the real world, such a speed threshold is absurdly slow when compared to the genuine ‘superfast’ speeds available in other EU states and, as ever, in Asia where speeds of 1Gbps are universally available.” 

In all fairness, Ofcom’s report correctly stated that the availability of superfast broadband in the UK was higher compared to four major European economies – Germany, France, Spain and Italy. 

Ofcom’s report did not say that the UK’s superfast coverage was the best in Europe, placing it behind countries like Denmark, Belgium the Netherlands and Malta – all states with landmasses significantly smaller than that of the UK. 

Shocker: Landmass of UK bigger than that of Malta

Despite the UK’s relatively high standing in superfast Europe, the truth remains that parts of the British Isles are still stuck in a superslow ghetto. 

The letter continues: “The truth is there are large areas of the UK (approximately 10 million homes and businesses according to the Government’s own figures) that are to be supported with public funding to deliver ‘target’ broadband speeds of just 2Mbps and 24Mbps (via the BT network). 

“These ‘have nots’, which include some of our most productive business premises in rural locations, are being left to languish in the slow connectivity lane indefinitely.” 

While the letter declines to name any specific businesses or regions, businessess who have seen the benefits of next-gen broadband have been quick to praise the benefits. Arcol Resistors in Cornwall spoke of how getting a 330Mbps connection transformed their business operations. 

More recently, firms located in the Kingston Business Park, Oxfordshire were on the verge of moving elsewhere until gigabit broadband ISP Gigaclear rescued them from stone age 1.5Mbps speeds

Not every firm in the UK is so fortunate, something this publication is already well aware of

The chairmen add that more needs to be done to get companies on the right side of the superfast divide. Arguably the Super Connected Cities scheme will help companies who are quick enough to snap up vouchers, but only in selected areas.  

The chairmen argue that unless the government’s broadband plan is rethought, the UK will fall behind in the global economic race. 

BDUK aims to have 95 per cent of the UK able to access superfast broadband by 2017. Those in the five per cent will get a basic service providing speeds of at least 2Mbps – just fast enough to stream content on BBC iPlayer

Separate research by analysts at Point Topic, published on the same day as Ofcom’s European Broadband Scorecard, suggests that superfast broadband is currently available to 75 per cent of UK homes and that 91 per cent of premises can get speeds of at least 4Mbps. 

The open letter to Ofcom is published in full below:

“Dear Sirs

Ofcom’s selective ranking of the UK as number one (‘UK overtakes major EU nations for superfast broadband’ March 12th – Ofcom) leaves the public and businesses less well informed as to the reality of UK broadband coverage.

Firstly, in ranking the UK as top (within the five EU nations selected) for ‘superfast’ broadband network, Ofcom uses a low threshold speed of just 30Mbps. At the same time, it ambitiously deems over 70% of UK premises as having access to such speeds. In the real world, such a speed threshold is absurdly slow when compared to the genuine ‘superfast’ speeds available in other EU states and, as ever, in Asia where speeds of 1000Mbps/1Gbps are universally available. Tellingly, when ranked against all 27 EU states (not just the five Ofcom conveniently chose for the sake of a headline) the UK ranks tenth, behind countries like Portugal, Denmark, Belgium, Lithuania and Latvia.

Secondly, the truth is there are large areas of the UK (approximately 10 million homes and businesses according to the Government’s own figures) that are to be supported with public funding to deliver ‘target’ broadband speeds of just 2 Mbps and 24 Mbps (via the BT network). These speeds are well below even Ofcom’s low threshold of ‘superfast’ broadband. These ‘have nots’, which include some of our most productive business premises in rural locations, are being left to languish in the slow connectivity lane indefinitely.

Painting an unduly rosy picture serves us all badly. It amounts to institutional denial of the need for a significant change in policy towards investment in digital infrastructure. It is leading to an unnecessary rapid regional and national decline in our relative productivity and competitiveness. It is akin to adding extra weight to handicap our businesses in what the Prime Minister has called “The Global Economic Race”
 

Yours sincerely
Digital Business First
Alex Pratt Chairman Buckinghamshire Business First (Local Enterprise Partnership)
Frank Nigrello Chairman Oxfordshire Business First (Local Enterprise Partnership)”

 

Additional reporting by Thomas Newton

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