BBC BLOGS - dot.Rory
« Previous | Main | Next »

The UK: The West Ham of broadband

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

If you work in the broadband or video games industries in the UK and want to know where government policy is heading over the next five years there are two men you need to know - Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey.

Jeremy HuntThe culture secretary and his digital minister - at least I think that's what we call Mr Vaizey, were at a trendy London new media club yesterday to give a first glimpse of their policies.

We did not learn much that was new to anyone who had read the Conservatives' technology manifesto before the election. But there was one very bold pledge on broadband and some rather dispiriting news about tax relief for the games industry, promised by the last government.

Jeremy Hunt repeated the mantra about broadband that we've heard from just about every leading politician in recent years - that a superfast network is vital to our competitiveness and that we must be watchful in building such a network that we do not let a new digital divide emerge.

He made it clear that he thinks the market will do the job, with a little prodding from regulators to free up existing infrastructure and perhaps some cash from the BBC licence fee. But he did announce that he would trial this theory with three rural broadband market testing projects.

The jaw-dropping line in Mr Hunt's speech, however, was his pledge that Britain would have "the best superfast broadband network in Europe" by the end of this Parliament.

That means by 2015, with the spending of a maximum of £300m of public money, the UK will have soared to the top of the European broadband league.

I had a look at a recent study of global broadband performance by Cisco and Oxford's Said Business School to see how far we need to go to achieve this goal.

It puts the UK in 17th place in Europe, far behind the likes of Sweden and Switzerland, with even Slovenia and Latvia ahead in the table. So to use a football metaphor, Mr Hunt is in the position of the manager of West Ham, promising to win the Premier League within five years, without a big budget for new players. Even Hammers fans may see that as a little optimistic.

On tax relief for the games industry Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey had warm words but then made it pretty clear that it would not be arriving in a hurry.

There was talk of the need for approval from Brussels, which could take up to two years, and more importantly of the battle to get the plan past the Treasury.

ELSPA, which lobbies on behalf of the UK games industry, put out a desperately cheerful statement welcoming the fact that Mr Hunt had not ruled out support, and hoping for help in the emergency budget on 22 June.

But the Chancellor George Osborne could have other priorities than helping out the makers of Grand Theft Auto and the like. Just like West Ham fans, the games industry bosses may need to be patient over the coming years.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    The longer they leave the Games Industry tax break the more people will leave the UK for other parts of the world. The government will make more money from a tax break than they will lose!

  • Comment number 2.

    The problem is the massive investment assumed in a fixed-line system. Namely a fibre-optic network that will cost £Billions to implement. Instead we should be looking at 4G (or inventing 5G) and moving the country away from a physical point-to-point network.

  • Comment number 3.

    The UK broadband network needs regulation. It is not fair that BT are upgrading telephone exchanges to their "21st Century Network" which already have access to ADSL2+ through LLU providers.

    BT should be forced to upgrade those exchanges which have no alternative providers first. In my area we have no LLU and no cable. We are stuck with "up to 8mbit/sec" ADSL and until BT do something we will still be stuck with it.

    I look to the larger town beside mine and they have about six LLU providers giving "up to 24mbit/sec" and 21CN on the way much sooner from BT.

  • Comment number 4.

    In its current state, mobile broadband is not looking like the future for our connectivity. As the bandwidth increases the network penetration decreases to an extent that good old bricks and mortar is enough to reduce a strong signal to a weak one.

    If they really want to improve our broadband they're going to have to invest, and an increase in government expenditure is not going to give them good PR at the moment. I think that most would prefer taxpayers money to go to the NHS than to improving our connectivity. Not that I think it's that simple, just that a lot of people would take that attitude.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    The trouble is that NO service provider will provide any kind of service that is not profitable, which means no provision of service outside of large towns and city's. As usual the "universal service obligation" to provide service to unprofitable areas will fall upon BT's shoulders which in this free market economy is totally unfair. Why should the likes of Virgin, Sky & talk talk et el be able to cherry pick the profitable areas and force BT to allow them to place their equipment in BT exchanges using the BT network while at the same time forcing BT to provide a service to unprofitable areas at a loss.
    Ofcom has done it's very best to ****up the British public telephone network. The current regulations benefit Ofcom and business's on the make, the one person who current regulation does not benefit is the customer, or end user as they are now called. Try reporting a fault on your line and see how far you get, and even if you succeed it will cost you over £150 for the repair visit, all of which used to be part of your quarterly BT line rental. Ofcom is like any other government run admin dept, the only thing it loves more than it's self is more admin.
    Bring back a unified national telephone network/company, sure Richard Branson and Rupert Murdock might be out of pocket but a)who cares b)at least the customer would get a better service, and c)Ofcom could be wound up!

  • Comment number 7.

    Mr Hunt is having a laugh if he thinks the market will do the job, why would they want to spend billions upgrading the broadband network when they will only be able to charge slightly more to customers than they do now, BT already has a monopoly over the Broadband industry in this country and I see no reason for them to make it any better.

    How he expects the UK to reach Europes Broadband elite with a piddly amount like £300 million is beyond me, countries like South Korea and Sweden have thrown countless billions at there broadband infastructure to get it to where it is now. Mr Hunt needs to step into reality and realise that to remain competitive he is going to have to make a big investment in the UK's broadband infastructure.

  • Comment number 8.

    Using fibre only works in major conurbations. What is needed is fast , high capacity WLAN as an alternative in rural and country communities. Let us remeber that many of us struggle even to get a mobile phone signal so first things first.

    If the government would support and facilitate the private sector to develop 5G mobile and somehow keep the high end intelectual property and patent ownership in the UKand then building in the lead we may have a chance.

    Otherwise just forget it - there is not the money or will by any UK provider to step up to the plate. Look at BT - largely hopeless and helpless having failed to capitalise on its early mobile lead, and its global reach. Now a former shell of itself it is left to milking its fixed mline networks as a monopolistic supplier of mediocrity.

  • Comment number 9.

    Why is it that "a superfast network is vital to our competitiveness"? Thanks to ADSL, almost everyoen has access to 1Mbps or better internet connections. Can someone please explain what additional benefit would come from having universal 50Mbps?

  • Comment number 10.

    I dont think the games industry should get a tax break.

    Modern traditional games are made by big corporations employing many hundreds of people on a single project. These will not be done in the UK even with a tax break.

    Smaller games for many different platforms will emerge from the UK by the one man band. This is where the innovation for the next few years will come from as long as our broadband stays reasonably competitive. Make tax simple and fairer and cut red tape.

  • Comment number 11.

    to TOM @9 lots of people (content providers) would make a lot of money selling lots of Data on 50Mbps but not if the content providers had to pay!

  • Comment number 12.

    Never mind about rural broadband. I live 5 miles outside the centre of Doncaster and get 1.8mbs it's pathetic. I have no cable because its too expensive to dig up the roads and put them in, also BT used low quality aluminium phone lines instead of copper and they won't change them. The only way you are going to get the internet providers to do anything about the slow speed is to make them only charge for the speed that they are delivering. If I go onto the BT website it says I can get up to 20 mbs, what a joke..

  • Comment number 13.

    In all these discussions, nobody ever mentions Kingston-upon-Hull, the only place in the UK which is not on the BT network; here, we are stuck with the monopolistic, expensive and slow Kingston Communications, who can't even provide enough bandwidth for their customers at the moment. I'm one of them, and I'm fed up.

  • Comment number 14.

    All high tech and research sectors deserve tax breaks - it seems like a no brainer to me. By encouraging business and innovation the UK has a lot to gain. We used to be the world leader in the sciences (in many areas we still are) and we can be again.

    As for broadband, it's not neccessary to be european leaders - just a fast, countrywide network would do. Perhaps Virgin could be persuaded to open up their cabled network and invest in new areas too?

  • Comment number 15.

    Agree with many of the comments here that Providers will/can not upgrade their networks to provide the Pompey of broadband.

    As I have said before, half of Bradley Stoke (5 miles north of Bristol city centre) is on the rural Almondsbury exchange and NOT LLU YET, without any Fibre Optic Cable and people struggle to get 1.5MBPS. Streaming i-player is not an option (or any other TV on demand/catchup service).

    Then the mobile networks who say you'll get 3G/HSDPA in your area because their sales pitch says that. I get 398kbps on 3 (mis-sold mobile broadband for interfacing with my iphone - before I got a landline after ten years without one). My iphone gets 3G in my kitchen but no service in my front room.

    So whoever can get their donkey in gear and get decent landline speeds to all (increased bandwidth) OR a decent mobile/satellite network that allows decent download speeds to all at a reasonable cost should sweep up so many who require 2MBPS+. The fact that no-one is ready to speculate to accumulate because of cost means that we will continue down the leagues like Wimbledon/MK Dons.

    Diggers

  • Comment number 16.

    @mmm #10

    Lionhead Studios (Black and White, Fable etc) are in Dundee and Dundee universities are a popular place for courses involving game design and programming. I think every attempt should be made to promote industries in this country (any industry really).

  • Comment number 17.

    What exactly is superfast broadband?
    Does it mean anything faster than the current average of around 3 to 4Meg?

    The emphasis on rural is no surprise, but overlooks the complex picture that broadband coverage is not just a rural issue.

  • Comment number 18.

    @ 13

    Seconded. KC is an absolute joke. I live 3 miles from the centre of Hull and get less than half a meg. I actually look forward to getting to use my parents rural BT connection!

  • Comment number 19.

    14. At 7:55pm on 09 Jun 2010, Stuart Reid wrote:
    As for broadband, it's not neccessary to be european leaders - just a fast, countrywide network would do. Perhaps Virgin could be persuaded to open up their cabled network and invest in new areas too?
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Virgin bought up what was NTL/Telewest because they had basically bankrupted themselves laying their pretty decent fiberoptic network.

    So whilst the Virgin fiberoptic network is great (although if you're on Virgin on copper, same old same old), DO NOT expect Virgin to be laying more significant fiberoptic networks any time soon (if ever).


    They are interested in making money (as their extortionate bills suggest), not going out of business al la NTL.

  • Comment number 20.

    @9
    “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
    “I think there’s a world market for about 5 computers.”

    With the speed of development There's no telling what uses are going to be around in ten years or so, Think how much the way we use the web has changed already since 2000. Google is already running trials of what people will be able to do with 1000Mb/s broadband.

    Personally I can already see opportunities for remote backup services and media streaming. Gaming and remote desktop services like OnLive only really make sense if they can count on the low latency reliable bandwidth of a proper fibre last mile infrastructure.

    Universal Fibre to the home is the inevitable conclusion and it's not going to get any cheaper or quicker to deploy so the sooner we bite the bullet and do it the better. It's not going to be any more expensive than other infrastructure projects like High speed Rail so I don't see why it should be neglected.
    I expect that with a universal Fibre to the Home network, we could eventually multicast our Freeview TV channels over that (in HD no less) and sell the wireless spectrum off to Mobile operators who are seeing a phenomenal rise in bandwidth demand with the increased proliferation of Smartphones, thus recouping much of the costs.

    @17
    Superfast broadband is being pegged at anything over 20Mb/s Download. Personally I think the term should have been reserved for >=100Mb/s symmetric services.
    BT's Fibre to the Cab service doesn't cut it in my opinion, upload speeds are still relatively poor and contention/latency are still an issue. Plus speeds are affected by distance from the cab.

  • Comment number 21.

    Not sure about the Wimbledon/MK Dons comparison, being an MK Dons season ticket holder but I digress.

    Milton Keynes had a Cable TV system put in the 70s and BT (GPO) at the time used aluminimum and aligned the phone lines along the grid roads, meaning the distance between phone and exchange was much longer tham it could be, which was fine for voice but...

    Now, MK has many broadband holes were speeds don't even get above 1 mbps.

    The cable system (now run by Virgin) isn't being upgraded. There are Openreach vans all over town and the main exchange is taking part in a FTTP trial, but only for a small number of people.

    The rest of us have to get what we are given. We only have the choice of an ISP using a BT Line.

    I live close to the M1, over 5km from the exchange and can get around 3.5 which from what I have read is a bit of luxury, when I used to live (almost next door to the exchange), I could be getting close to 10.

    Government view that the market will improve the system is short-sighted, its the same as if they decided to privatise all the motorways...would it make them better? doubt it.

    Goverment needs to intervene, and give the UK the broadband speeds it deserves, not just in rural areas but also in major towns and cities as well!

  • Comment number 22.


    I work as a programmer in the games industry and I'm saddened by this news - the Tories seemed initially to support the idea also. More brain drain to subsidised Canada then, I suppose.
    @ Aidy: Not quite, Lionhead, along with Media Molecule are based in Guildford. EA have an office there too. The Creative Assembly is down the road in Horsham. Brighton has a bunch of developers as does London. There are quite a few in Scotland too, including Rockstar as well as many in the North. Not too many in Wales or the west yet although Aberystwyth has Broadsword and there are some guys with a nice tool chain and engine doing racing games in North Wales.
    Anyway, many big games are made in this country, along with lots of talented indies. We bring more money into Britain than film and don't make a big fat mess like oil (although granted, you can't drive a real car using computer games).
    On top of that, we make something in Britain that can be exported and that people actually want. It's insulting but not surprising that many politicians, who are not in the business of making things, undervalue us.

  • Comment number 23.

    19. is spot on , ntl/telewest went basically bankrupt from laying there very good fiber optic network and they certainly wont be involved in any large scale cable laying in the near future. I thank god i'm on there network and dont have to rely on BT . BT should be ashamed of themselves with how slow they have been in rolling out broadband . And there current service from my experience is rubbish. There are millions and millions of people in large cities and towns who still get a terrible internet service from BT and are basically being ripped of.

  • Comment number 24.

    Interesting conversation I had this evening with a contractor working up my street.

    He was removing the cabling from the underground BT lines (mine come via overhead cables). He said that last week he wass doing the same in Cheltenham and it is to make way for BT to fit Fibre optic cables in the trunking.

    They are keeping that quiet but if that is the case then semi-rural/rural areas may be on the upgrade route.


    Interesting times

    Diggers

  • Comment number 25.

    For those of you bemoaning 1MB/sec, think of us poor souls in South Africa. We are lucky to get 40kb/sec during the day and the blazingly fast 100Kb/sec in the evening. For this luxury, we are charged 50 pounds a month and are capped on top of it. The answer lies in WiMax and the Cisco CRS-3 router, once it gets past the AT&T testing phase. I was in rural Wales a few weeks ago and was so gobsmacked at the 1.2Mb/sec download speed, I took a video of it to show my mates here! Some of you just don't realise how lucky you are. I was also very surprised that you guys lag way behind with your wireless networks, even Zanzibar gets 6Mb/sec and thats the whole Island (was there 2 months ago but the potholes are so big that you lose signal!)
    At least we have the World Cup! C'Mon England!!

  • Comment number 26.

    The Tories are reluctant to spend this money as any upgrade to our broadband infrastructure will be massively expensive, we simply don't have the money for it.

    At the moment anything above around a true 4-5mbps is good enough for home use. £300 million is still a significant amount of taxpayers money.

  • Comment number 27.

    The attached table doesn't put the UK at 17th, it puts it at 25th, so that would be - correct me if I'm wrong - the Swansea of broadband?

  • Comment number 28.

    Its laughable that in an age when the new government is pushing for a "small goverment" the requirement for super fast broadband is clearly a time when "big goverment" is required to oversee and direct a UK wide broadband strategy and pull us our of the dark ages.

    However, in a age of austerity measures it will be interesting to see how these bold promises will come to fruition within the next 5 years.

    But hey, maybe the mobile phone companies and dare I say it satellite broadcaster (sky) to step up to the plate and get in on the act.



  • Comment number 29.

    OffTel should impose the same rule on exchange upgrades that the local authorities impose on house builders - that every 6th development should be an affordable house. That would make the likes of BT, Virgin, TalkTalk have to upgrade rural exchanges, as well as the profitable urban exchanges. Housing can do it - why can't telecoms?

  • Comment number 30.

    Here in Bournemouth we are already getting FTTH with FibreCity installing >100mbps using the sewerage network to every building in Bournemouth. If the govt. follow up on their initiative to force utility co.'s to open up their networks it's a possibility for the whole country to receive Fibre to the home. The reason that it becomes a possibility is purely cost, if you don't have to dig up the roads it becomes feasible. Dundee is next-you lucky things!

  • Comment number 31.

    I wander if the governent realise what level of "brain drain" is occuring in the games industry in this country... Aproximately half those whom I know who were working in the games industry 5 years ago have now emigrated to other countries to set up their own companies; typically employing between 5 and 20 people. This country is sitting back and letting an entire industry die on its feet because it hasn't recognised the games industry as a creative one, which contributes serious money to the economy. Maybe if games designers started inviting ministers on holiday like the music industry they may have more luck!

  • Comment number 32.

    Is it not also time to look at the contention ratios (1-48 typically)... The current speeds in many areas of the country would be adequete, if you weren't sharing that with 47 other people.
    The broadband model still seems to be based around the niave idea that not everyone is using broadband all the time, which may have been true 5 years ago but certainly not now in the world of always on-communications!

  • Comment number 33.

    The cheap upgrades are already done. Further upgrades will cost a fortune. For example I live in a village about 3.5km from the local town centre exchange we are connected to by line of sight (although 2 exchanges are closer), yet 5km by road and 7km by the route the lines take. Useless for ADSL and we get under a 1mb connection. Any upgrade is going to require new lines, possibly with a new route which will cost a great deal. Probably not financially viable yet no doubt cheaper than many real rural areas..
    Ironically we were meant to have been cabled up in 1996, but the local cable company went out of business and was swallowed up.

  • Comment number 34.

    Having super fast 50mbps internet compared to 1mbps wont make a massive difference to the average user, at least not initially. The advantage comes from new services that we are yet to fully appreciate such as internet TV, VoIP communications and more interactive social networking.

    Of course if the way we use the internet stays exactly the same, then there is little need for faster speed.

  • Comment number 35.

    Nntl/telewest went basically bankrupt from laying there very good fiber optic network and they certainly wont be involved in any large scale cable laying in the near future. I thank god i'm on there network and dont have to rely on BT . BT should be ashamed of themselves with how slow they have been in rolling out broadband . And there current service from my experience is rubbish. There are millions and millions of people in large cities and towns who still get a terrible internet service from BT and are basically being ripped of. I found the below company does provide some equipment for internet

    LinkWaves

  • Comment number 36.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 37.

    Universal Fibre to the home is the inevitable conclusion and it's not going to get any cheaper or quicker to deploy so the sooner we bite the bullet and do it the better. It's not going to be any more expensive than other infrastructure projects like High speed Rail so I don't see why it should be neglected.
    I expect that with a universal Fibre to the Home network, we could eventually multicast our Freeview TV channels over that (in HD no less) and sell the wireless spectrum off to Mobile operators who are seeing a phenomenal rise in bandwidth demand with the increased proliferation of Smartphones, thus recouping much of the costs.

  • Comment number 38.

    The trouble is that NO service provider will provide any kind of service that is not profitable, which means no provision of service outside of large towns and city's. As usual the "universal service obligation" to provide service to unprofitable areas will fall upon BT's shoulders which in this free market economy is totally unfair. Why should the likes of Virgin, Sky & talk talk et el be able to cherry pick the profitable areas and force BT to allow them to place their equipment in BT exchanges using the BT network while at the same time forcing BT to provide a service to unprofitable areas at a loss.
    Ofcom has done it's very best to ****up the British public telephone network. The current regulations benefit Ofcom and business's on the make, the one person who current regulation does not benefit is the customer, or end user as they are now called. Try reporting a fault on your line and see how far you get, and even if you succeed it will cost you over £150 for the repair visit, all of which used to be part of your quarterly BT line rental. Ofcom is like any other government run admin dept, the only thing it loves more than it's self is more admin. Bring back a unified national telephone network/company, sure Richard Branson and Rupert Murdock might be out of pocket but a)who cares b)at least the customer would get a better service, and of com could be wound up! I found the below company does provide some Cisco equipment for internet and other like internet TV, VoIP communications and more interactive social networking equipments.

  • Comment number 39.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 40.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

 

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.