Association says that ‘digital by default’ public services add to the need for fast speeds in remote areas
The Local Government Association (LGA) has pressed the Government to set a timetable for the roll out of a national minimum broadband speed across the country, warning that hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses could fall into a “digital twilight zone”.
It has made the call in the aftermath of the Government reshuffle, which has seen the minister previously responsible for the effort, Ed Vaizey, replaced by Matt Hancock as Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The DCMS has estimated that the number of households that will be unable to access a 10Mbps (Megabits per second) service by 2017 is likely to be as high as one million, with 100,000 of those in remote rural areas.
The LGA said that local government leaders support the Government's planned creation of a national minimum broadband speed as part of a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband users, but are calling for a safety net for those who are unlikely to be covered by roll out plans.
It also urged the Government to legislate for the USO's minimum speed to be reviewed at appropriate intervals and upgraded when necessary. The specification should define minimum levels of provision for a range of factors, shifting the focus away from headline speeds, which can be misleading, towards other indicators, including upload speed, that provide a more realistic way of determining an internet connection's quality.
Recently the Government apparently backed away from the target to make a speed of 24Mbps available to everyone, indicating it would accept 10Mbps for the “final 5%” of the country.
The LGA pointed out that speeds in some remote areas still fall below 2Mbps in peak periods.
Councillor Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA's People and Places Board, said: “As central and local government services increasingly become ‘digital by default', more people will need to have faster and more reliable speeds.
"It is paramount that the Government maintains momentum and presses ahead with plans to enshrine the USO in law. We hope that the recent changes in Government do not delay work on the USO and call on ministers to reaffirm their commitment to it.
"Equally, while this minimum standard is a good start it must keep pace with national average speeds and the expectations of households especially at peak times. Without this there is the real possibility of some areas – particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas - falling into a digital twilight zone.”
He added: "Councils are best placed to understand the digital needs of local areas. They are at the centre of improving digital 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.”
The LGA recently launched an ‘Up to Speed' campaign to ensure every resident and business has access to faster broadband, and said that many councils are aiming to beat the Government's national target of 95% coverage of premises by December 2017.