Thursday, June 04, 2009

Is broadband a utility? (part 4) - UK consumers say "Yes"

For a while now I've been banging on about whether Broadband should be considered a 'utility', particularly in light of the decision by the Australian Government to invest in building a 'National Broadband Network'. Well, it seems as if we finally have an answer ... Yes, it should be.

A survey by OFCOM's Communications Consumer Panel has found that 73% of those questioned described a high-speed connection as important, even ranking it above a mobile phone in their list of necessities on the basis that people who did not have broadband would be at a disadvantage, missing out on services such as shopping, banking and public services as they were increasingly being delivered online.

According to Anna Bradley, the chair of the Communications Consumer Panel: "The key message is that people think broadband is at a tipping point. It's fantastically useful for everyone, essential for some now, but will be essential for everyone in the near future. It is being compared by consumers to gas and electricity - things which they think we all ought to have access to, almost as a right."

Consumers questioned in the survey supported broadband access for all and said that:

  • It should be possible to have broadband at home, regardless of where people live (84% agree, 46% agree strongly).
  • It is everyone's right to be able to have broadband at home (81% agree, 42% agree strongly).
  • It should be possible also for people to gain the confidence and skills to make full use of broadband at home (80% agree, 32% agree strongly).
  • It should be possible to access broadband at home, even if they have a low income (73% agree, 32% agree strongly).
But, if we do indeed consider broadband to be a utility that should be available to all, the UK has some way to go both compared to its peers internationally but also domestically.

While Lord Carter in his interim recommendations for Digital Britain, has proposed a Universal Service for broadband, with a recommended 2Mbps which the government has backed, the reality is that much of the UK remains disconnected.

According to research commissioned by the BBC, about three million homes in the UK have broadband speeds of less than the magic 2Mbps. What's more, the physical distance of many homes from the local exchange mean it is practically impossible for them to get anywhere nears this speed.

The map of these so-called Broadband NotSpots put the scale of the problem in context (check out ThinkBroadband and SamKnows for their NotSpot maps).

As soon as you drop below the 2Mbps, the access to content and services drops off dramatically ... heck, you won't even be able to watch the re-run of the Apprentice on iPlayer ... it's THAT bad.

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