As British Prime Minister Theresa May battled today to keep alive her political career and, potentially Brexit, there's been one shining light in the morass that's become Britain's debate over staying in or leaving the European Union: High-speed broadband investment and deployment is getting more attention and investment.
In July, for example, the government crafted a new long-term strategy for telecommunications, which included mandatory full-fiber broadband for all new-home builds and a push to include fiber to rural regions. Publicly, this was generated by the impending arrival of 5G and the hope of encouraging more commercial investment in fixed and wireless networks. No doubt, though, members of Parliament heard from constituents angry that in Britain, "super-fast broadband" only nudges along at 24Mbit/s. And Britain's global standing for broadband speeds had fallen, behind less affluent nations like Romania and Madagascar.
Britain ranked 35th out of 200 countries compared with 31st (out of 189) in 2017, according to Cable.co's report in July. At that time, Britain had only just begun mass-deploying fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP), whereas most leading nations were much further along in their use of fiber. Consumers pilloried incumbents like BT and Virgin, owned by Liberty Media, for the lackluster speeds they received from aging, copper-based infrastructure, poor communication, and terrible customer service.
Today, British broadband is ailing, said Ben Edmond, CEO of Connected2Fiber, in an interview.
"I would describe the state of British broadband as needing a full recuperation. The broadband stats mask the underlying symptoms, showing high broadband penetration but hiding a market dominated by copper with anemic fiber reach," he said. "The market is needing massive capital and regulatory reform to spark the fiber investment needed to both deploy the right last mile infrastructure and enable next-generation speeds and services."
The government has taken several steps, such as investments and simplifying some regulations -- and especially getting out of the way of challengers such as TalkTalk on the customer-facing side and wholesaler CityFibre, with partner Vodafone -- to improve British broadband. (See Ofcom Claims Credit for Full-Fiber 'Momentum' in UK.)
"[We must] change the metric of success, designing broadband to truly be world leading at hundreds of MBs per second versus the current government definition of 'superfast broadband' -- speeds of 24Mbps or more -- coverage for over 95% of UK premises," said Edmond, "which has provided universal access to basic 'broadband' (speeds of at least 2Mbps): 2Mbps is not broadband and 24Mbps is not a leadership target. It is a laggard target."
These challengers agree and are planning true superfast or high-speed broadband, in gigabits not megabits.
For CityFibre, this decision came out of patriotism as well as being a sound business decision, Clayton Nash, head of products, told Broadband World News.
"Demand is not an issue here. Fiber broadband is how people live their lives, how they find jobs, how they -- to a larger and larger extent -- actually work," he said. "Brexit doesn't affect that. The UK is a service economy, services run on the Internet, and the Internet runs on fiber. The economic impact of just our plans, we think, is worth more than £80 billion and 5,000 jobs."
The laissez faire attitude, the lack of any urgency, that's kept British connectivity speeds falling as other nations prioritize broadband investment created a vacuum.
"[The incumbents] created an opportunity for us to disrupt the space. Back in 2011, back when we were just being formed, there was no fiber-to-the-home. The UK -- the fifth largest economy in the world -- was 35th in broadband connectivity, and dropping," he said. "The UK is going through some changes right now… Brexit. We're in a situation where there's a lot more uncertainty. The UK is a service economy. Services run on the Internet. The Internet runs on fiber. And the people who were responsible for delivering fiber weren't. And that gives us the opportunity to disrupt."
It might seem Brits are tired of disruption. When it comes to broadband, however, it's beyond time for the UK to disrupt infrastructure and "superfast" connectivity. Brits don't have much control over what's going on in Parliament or Brussels, but they certainly demand better broadband than they've been receiving for far too long.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.