Lords Vision of the final mile 4 Broadband 4 All

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The Communications Committee of The House of Lords has today published its   report “Broadband for all – an alternative vision” Onlinepdf.

The Committee members are Baroness Bakewell (from 16 May 2012), Lord Bragg, Lord Clement-Jones, Baroness Deech, Lord Dubs (from 16 May 2012), Baroness Fookes, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, Lord Inglewood (Chairman), Bishop of Norwich Lord Macdonald of Tradeston (until 30 April 2012), Lord Razzall, Lord St John of Bletso, Earl of Selborne, Lord Skelmersdale. Michael Fourman, Professor of Computer Systems in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, acted as Specialist Adviser for this Inquiry.

It’s pretty weighty (80 pages) and comes up with something like 46 recommendations to Government (summarised on pages 63 to 67).

Their “vision” “In brief, ….. is of a robust and resilient national network linked primarily by optical connectivity, bringing open access fibre-optic hubs into or within reach of every community.”

“The open access fibre-optic hub is, in fact, quite a simple idea. It refers to a physical object—in all likelihood a box—situated in the vicinity of a community. Its job is to act as a waystation between that community and the broadband infrastructure that spreads out across the rest of the country. Running into the hub from the wider network would be an ample number of fibre-optic cables, which in the first instance, would be ‘dark,’ in the sense that no data traffic will yet be running over them. The reason for this may be, for example, that it has not yet been connected in any way to the properties in the community around it. An important feature of the hub, however, is that the dark fibre running into it should be open access; so that anybody is permitted to build a link between a premises in the community and a fibre in the hub by installing their own passive or active electronic equipment in between, and then rent the existing fibre they are connecting to, which extends the connection from the premises out from the hub and onto the wider network. This would enable any type of compatible access network to be built by any local community, SME or infrastructure provider.”

Whilst we are not sure if this is a preferred way forward (and unsurprisingly the Government are opposed) we would certainly favour greater competition for BT and their Open Reach division (which owns and manages BT’s local access network). As they rightly point out the current competition in this area is to say the least limited  “There are two major local access networks (the final mile) for broadband in the UK: BT’s copper telephone network and Virgin Media’s cable television network which almost entirely runs in parallel with BT’s network.”

Almost as an aside they note that as “initially the strongest driver of consumers moving from basic to enhanced broadband will be Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) services.” Then “It is likely that IPTV services will become ever more widespread, and eventually the case for transferring the carriage of broadcast content, including public service broadcasting, from spectrum to the internet altogether will become overwhelming. This may well be a more sensible arrangement, as spectrum is perfectly suited to mobile applications,”

So they recommend “ …… that the Government, Ofcom and the industry begin to consider the desirability of the transfer of terrestrial broadcast content from spectrum to the internet and the consequent switching off of broadcast transmission over spectrum, and in particular what the consequences of this might be and how we ought to begin to prepare.”

We think there is a way to go but in the light of how the market develops for connected TV & associated devices eg Google’s Nexus Q etc the previously unthinkable should be thought. Also, unlike 4G, it could be worth considering sooner rather than later.

Its progress will certainly have a huge influence on consumer demand for improved broadband services.

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