Vaizey predicts ‘gigabit Britain tipping point’ by 2020

Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey has told MPs he believes a majority of premises in the UK will have access to broadband speeds of 100-300mbps by the end of the decade.

Vaizey also admitted that that the government was unlikely to spell out its minimum universal  service obligation (USO) for broadband speed in its forthcoming Digital Economy Bill, however he said proposals would be consulted on.

Speaking to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on Wednesday (April 13), Vaizey said he believed the believed the phrase “Gigabit Britain” was interchangeable with speeds of 100-300mbps, but that the phrase “trips off the tongue more easily than 100-300mbps Britain”.

The minister said he expected such speeds would be seen by most people in the nation in the next three or so years as a “significant tipping point” was passed.

“We know that almost half of the country already has access to very high speeds via Virgin Media’s network,” he said. 

“BT Openreach is trialling GFAST technology and it thinks it can roll that out relatively quickly to about a third of UK homes, to about 10 million homes, by the end of 2020. So that would make a massive step change.”

GFAST technology allows speeds of 1gbps on some copper loops.

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Vaizey subsequently said he envisaged 80 per cent of people having access broadband services of a minimum 100mbps by 2022.

Grilled by select committee members, Vaizey refused to commit to what an absolute minimum USO could be for the  nation, but suggested 10mbs was seen as “a floor” and that there could be a split between the offer for commercial and residential premises. 

“We’re going to legislate to introduce a USO  in the Digital Economy Bill, and then we’re going to consult on the detail of how it will work,” he said. 

“It will include a detailed right, but what that legal right will actually entail will have to be consulted on.”

He added: “We’re not envisaging the USO coming on stream until the end of 2017-2018.”

Vaizey told MPs the Digital Economy Bill was expected in the summer.

An initial consultation on enabling powers for the broadband USO was launched at the end of last month.

Jim Dunton

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