Vaizey dismisses broadband fears

Fears that some of the remotest parts of the UK will only be able to access “piddling” broadband speeds have been dismissed by the cyber security minister.

Ed Vaizey assured MPs the ‘universal service obligation’ (USO) the government was considering would not be limited to “some piddling European target of five megabits”.

Such a speed would be barely one fifth of the 24Mbps normally taken to qualify as a “superfast” connection.

However, under the government’s Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy, published earlier this year, suggested a speed no lower than 5Mbps would be required.

Vaizey made it crystal clear the 5Mpbs was an EU imposition and not a government target.

“When we look at a universal service obligation we will look at a British universal service obligation to deliver the kind of British broadband speeds that British citizens and businesses require,” the minister said.

“Over the last four years we have delivered that to more than 3 million homes and businesses, and we are fast approaching 4 million.”

The USO is expected to be officially announced next month, most likely in the Chancellor’s Spending Review on 25 November.

The legislation would give homeowners and businesses the right to insist telecoms companies install a broadband line into their home and office.

Ministers are hoping to close the majority of the digital divide in the next two years.

Government funded work carried out with BT should bring superfast broadband to 95 per cent of the UK by 2017.

However, only £10m has been set aside to install the remaining cable needed to reach the final 5 per cent before superfast broadband is delivered to “absolutely everybody”.

Local authorities have also criticised BT for preventing them from tying to plug the gaps on coverage on their own, as the communications giant has refused to release details of blackspots to potential rivals.

But Vaizey said the BT monopoly on government contracts had not prevented Virgin announcing £3 billion of competitive investment, to reach up to 4 million homes.

Meanwhile, Sky and TalkTalk were “building a network in York to see how it can roll out fibre to premises”.

The minister said: “Of course, those who are calling for the break-up of BT include such small businesses run out of a back bedroom as Sky, Vodafone and TalkTalk. It is absolutely astonishing.”

Colin Marrs

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