Councils urge broadband safety net as Digital Economy bill goes through Parliament
The Digital Economy Bill should ensure consumers can easily compare broadband speeds from different providers, the Local Government Association (LGA) has stated.
Broadband providers should open up their data so people can more easily compare the estimated broadband speed they can receive direct to their home, rather than to their postcode, the LGA added.
It also claims that there is no single place that consumers can compare side by side estimates of the broadband speeds that providers could supply to their home. Instead the only information they get is postcode estimates of speeds, which can vary significantly from what residents might actually receive.
The only way a consumer can find out what speed they could get was to conduct a line speed test via every potential broadband provider’s website to get a true assessment of the speed their premises will achieve, the LGA said. This, it said, was complicated and time-consuming for people who want a simple view of the market, and makes it much harder to choose the best package.
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Cllr Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “We support the government’s aims to allow Ofcom to demand providers open up their premises-level data on broadband so that residents can more easily compare who will provide the best service to their home – not just their postcode, which can often be inaccurate.”
The LGA also wants greater transparency for broadband users by calling for a change to the rules which allow providers to promote “up to” download speeds if they can demonstrate that just 10% of their customers can achieve them.
It said these speeds don’t reflect the experience of many users, particularly those in remote rural areas.
As the Digital Economy bill heads for its second reading in the House of Commons, the LGA has set out what it wants the bill to include in a briefing document.
It welcomed the government’s proposed creation of a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) as a safety net for those residents and businesses not connected as a “positive development”, adding that access to fast and reliable digital connectivity is a necessity for households and businesses in the UK and is a major driver behind growth, jobs and the emerging creative industries.
Neil Fraser, head of space and comms at global broadband services company ViaSat UK, said that the Digital Economy Bill’s priority needs to be ensuring the UK isn’t split between broadband haves and have-nots.
“The proposed Universal Service Obligation is not the full answer; after all, a USO speed of 10Mbps is a significant step down from the minimum 24Mbps the government was aiming for before November 2015,” Fraser said. “While 10Mbps is definitely better than nothing, we will still rapidly see the effects of a two-tier internet. Essentially, those with true superfast broadband will benefit from the education, opportunities and correspondingly greater outside investment it brings, while those without will suffer in comparison.”