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LGA - Flexible minimum standard of broadband speed needed to avoid digital twilight zones

The Government must create a more flexible national minimum standard of broadband speed across the country to stop hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses from falling into a ‘digital twilight zone', councils say.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils, is launching a campaign, called Up to Speed, which aims to ensure every resident and business has access to faster broadband. This includes a new speed test app which enables users to test their broadband and compare it with other speeds in their area.

The campaign comes as latest research shows almost half of homes and businesses in rural areas cannot reach 10Mbps (Megabits per second). Within two years, up to one million premises will still be without high-speed broadband.

The Government has pledged to give everybody the legal right to request a broadband connection capable of delivering a minimum download speed of 10Mbps by 2020. This speed roughly allows a family to watch a high-definition film and a catch-up tv programme and make a video call simultaneously. Currently, many remote rural areas have well below 2Mbps during key periods, such as when children get home, during school holidays and after 6pm.

Local authorities are playing a pivotal role in extending fast broadband to as many residents as possible. They are working with government to deliver superfast broadband to 95 per cent of premises by 2017, with some areas planning to reach even more.

The LGA says the Government's pledge is a "significant step" in the right direction. However, councils are concerned that the fixed download speed of 10Mbps will quickly become outdated for households and businesses. What is needed, councils say, is for a new minimum standard which is a percentage of average national speeds. So when the national average of download speeds inevitably rises, the minimum standard will too. It is predicted the average household will require bandwidth of 19 Mbps by 2023.

The LGA has also called for clarification on whether the Government will specify a minimum performance of other elements which make for a good quality internet connection, such as upload speed. Upload speed is critical, for example, for small businesses, who need to send clients digital invoices, upload large files to the cloud, or publish high-resolution images on their customer-facing websites. Slow upload speeds means these processes often take considerably longer and lead to online systems crashing or "timing out".

Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, file tax returns and access their bank accounts. As central and local government services increasingly become ‘digital by default,' more people will need to have faster and more reliable speeds.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of the Local Government Association's People and Places Board, said: "The Government's planned commitment to universal broadband across the country is a significant step forward. However there is a real concern that as the broadband needs among households and businesses in rural areas grow they will be left lagging behind because the national minimum standard quickly becomes obsolete.

"This is why it is paramount the minimum standard is constantly monitored and reviewed and it keeps track with national average speeds and that speeds users experience at peak times are still within minimum standards. Without this there is the real possibility of some areas – particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas - falling into a digital twilight zone. Broadband is a major driver behind growth and jobs and this is about making areas attractive to businesses who wouldn't otherwise locate there. Broadband is also a key way of enabling residents who are housebound to live independently.

"Achieving 10 Mbps should just be the start and something to build on because demand for and availability of faster speeds continues to grow. For the farmer applying for funding, the small business processing its invoices or the GP checking the availability of medicines, broadband is communities' lifeblood.

"Councils are best placed to understand the digital needs of local areas. They are at the centre of improving mobile connectivity through helping implement superfast broadband programmes, organising local initiatives to raise residents' and businesses' digital skills and working with mobile operators to best place infrastructure."

Case studies

Gloucestershire

20,286 rural homes and businesses in the Cotswolds have got faster broadband thanks to Gloucestershire County Council's Fastershire project. This week the county council is celebrating the success of its project which has helped thousands of businesses and homes get online easier, helping them do business or make the most of the internet.

West Somerset

West Somerset Council has agreed in principle to invest £240,000 in the programme to extend the superfast broadband provision in the district.

Kent County Council

Kent are working with Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) to improve broadband across Kent and Medway. It is aiming to bring superfast broadband to more than 140,00 homes and business across Kent, and increase standard broadband speeds to at least 2Mbps.

Durham

Broadband is key to unlocking economic growth in County Durham to create more jobs, improve business, support education and transform access to services for communities. Broadband suppliers are not inclined to invest in some communities where it will take a long time to get a financial return on their investment. This is where the Digital Durham programme comes in to fill those gaps. Around 72,000 premises across County Durham would miss out without the council's intervention.

More reading:

LGA's Up to Speed campaign

The LGA's Up to Speed campaign aims to ensure every resident and business has access to faster broadband. Our resource enables you to test the broadband in your area, maps local broadband speeds and provides further information on how to make the best broadband accessible.

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport programme to deliver superfast broadband (speeds of 24Mbps or more) to 95% of the UK by December 2017 and access to basic broadband (2Mbps) for all from December 2015. As well as 47 local projects across the country BDUK explores options to provide superfast coverage to the hardest to reach parts of the UK and supported growth with the now closed Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme which encouraged SMEs to take up superfast broadband.

At present, in England, 4% of premises in urban areas and 47% of premises in rural areas cannot currently achieve speeds greater than or equal to 10Mbps. (Source: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/infrastructure/2015/downloads/cn15-england.pdf  para 2.1.1)

Consultation on 10Mbps Broadband USO opens                                                                   

A consultation on plans to introduce a new Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband users has commenced. The Government wants to ensure that everyone is able to access minimum broadband speeds of 10Mbps by 2020 and make this target legally binding

  • Government estimates that, even with BDUK's existing intervention and continued commercial roll-out, up to 1 million UK premises will not be able to access speeds of 10Mbps or higher by the end of 2017. While these premises will be spread throughout the UK, and include homes and businesses in cities as well as very remote locations, we expect they will be predominantly in rural areas with more than half a million of these premises forecast to be in rural locations, and more than 100,000 in remote rural locations.

  • Currently, many remote rural areas have well below 2 Mbps during key periods, such as when children get home, during school holidays and after 6pm

 10Mbps:

  • 6mbps – HD film

  • 2mbps – catch up tv

  • 1.5 mbps – video call

  • 0.5 mbps  - basic web browsing

However, councils are concerned that the fixed download speed of 10 Mbps will quickly become outdated for households and businesses

Looking across all households, the model indicates that the median household will require bandwidth of 19 Mbps by 2023

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