Ed Vaizey has insisted in a parliamentary debate that 5Mbps will not be good enough to satisfy the government
Fears that a proposed new legal right to broadband internet will deliver only “piddling” speeds have been dismissed by a government minister.
A ‘universal service obligation’ (USO) – ruled out only three years ago – is being considered to “ensure that no one gets left behind”, even in the most remote areas
However, the government’s Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy, published in March, suggested only a speed no slower than 5Mbps would be required.
Such a speed would be barely one fifth of the 24Mbps normally taken to qualify as a “superfast” connection.
But in a Commons debate on the subject triggered by an e-petition, Ed Vaizey, the broadband minister (picutred), dumped that idea, telling MPs: “It is no secret that we are looking at a universal service obligation – and we will not be tied to some piddling European target of five megabits.
“No, when we look at a universal service obligation we will look at a British universal service obligation to deliver the kind of British broadband speeds that British citizens and businesses require.
“Over the last four years we have delivered that to more than 3 million homes and businesses, and we are fast approaching 4 million.”
Chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce the go-ahead for the USO next month, probably as part his crucial Spending Review, on November 25. Residents and businesses would then gain the right to compel telecoms companies to install a broadband line to their home or office.
Government funded work carried out by BT is on course to bring superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by 2017, according to ministers. But uncertainty surrounds how the final 5% will be reached, with a pot of only £10m set aside to exploit new technologies to deliver superfast speeds to “absolutely everybody”.
Local authorities have protested that they are unable to pursue plugging the gaps because BT has refused to allow them to release details of blackspots to potential rivals. But Vaizey said in the debate that the BT monopoly on government contracts had not prevented Virgin announcing £3 billion of competitive investment, to reach up to 4 million homes.
Meanwhile, Sky and TalkTalk were “building a network in York to see how it can roll out fibre to premises”.
The minister said: “Of course, those who are calling for the break-up of BT include such small businesses run out of a back bedroom as Sky, Vodafone and TalkTalk. It is absolutely astonishing.”
He said Labour claimed: “BT has me over a barrel when it has just paid back £129 million seven years early, thanks to the contracts we negotiated”.