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Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

For most of us, broadband has become essential to our day-to-day working and home lives with the vast array of ways in which we use our connection continuing to increase and bandwidth demands booming. So, is it time broadband was officially recognised as a utility, like gas, water and electricity?

The recent Digital Skills Committee report commissioned by the House of Lords suggests that broadband is now as essential as our other utilities and that designating broadband as a ‘utility’ could help to solve the issue of ‘not-spots’ in the UK and ensure a future-proof connectivity infrastructure. The Government is already working with providers to rollout superfast broadband to 95% of the country by 2017. But what about that final 5% – would broadband being classed as a utility really help to solve this?

The BSG (Broadband Stakeholder Group) warns that won’t be the case and in fact, designating broadband as a utility could hinder the market, limit competition and force unnecessary bureaucracy on the industry. Matthew Evans, CEO of BSG explained that despite gas being a ‘utility’ for many years, 10% of the UK still isn’t connected to the main gas grid and warned:

“Digital connectivity is becoming integral to our lives – indeed it is as important as a utility – but regulating it as such would mark a major intervention into the market, likely deterring investment, whilst adding to the regulatory burden. This is the opposite of what we should be pursuing.”

What about a Universal Service Obligation (USO)?

So, if classification as a utility isn’t a suitable solution, what about a USO? We already have a USC (Universal Service Commitment) to deliver a minimum of 2Mbps to the whole of the UK by 2016 but this has repeatedly come under fire for firstly not being legally binding like a USO and secondly providing only 2Mbps as a minimum.

ISPReview.co.uk recently held a poll to see what its readers thought about a broadband USO and found that over 71% of respondents supported a USO of 2Mbps. However, when asked if they would pay more (just £1 per month) to fund it almost half (49.8%) said ‘no’. Digging deeper, when asked if they would spend £2-3 per month to fund a USO of 10Mbps there were still more people saying ‘no’ (45.9% ) than saying ‘yes’ (42%).

It looks like most respondents agree that funding a 2Mbps USO is pretty much pointless now and agree that a minimum of 10Mbps would be more beneficial even if more costly. This is something we’ve been saying since 2009!

So, should broadband be a utility then?

No, we don’t think it should. The market is doing pretty well without the need for extra bureaucracy, Government intervention and further regulation simply to solve a ‘not-spot’ issue that would most likely still exist. Surely, it would be better to consider the merits of a 10Mbps USO and make the promised changes to planning regulations in order to make the future deployment of networks easier for providers.

Is a USO likely? Probably not! When questioned on the subject, the Government of the time appears to have the same default response of ‘now is not a suitable time for a broadband USO’. However, with growing broadband usage and an ever-increasing customer reliance on connectivity – that time surely can’t be far away, especially if they really do want to ensure the UK has the leading connectivity infrastructure in Europe.

Have your say!

Do you think broadband should be defined as a utility? Do you have concerns regarding the affect this would have on the industry? Do you support the concept of a 2Mbps USO or would you prefer a 10Mbps USO? Or do you think the industry should be left alone to expand and evolve naturally? Let us know your thoughts and opinion by leaving us a comment below.

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