The UK Government is fond of broadband targets and one of the longest standing is that we'll have the fastest broadband in Europe by 2015, a promise first made in a 2010 report
on Britain's broadband future. Now that 2015 is alarmingly close to being our present, the UK regulator has been tasked with assessing whether we're close to meeting that target.
The latest results are in this week, and they're good. Ofcom's European Broadband Scorecard (available in full here
) measures the UK, primarily against four fairly similar countries, Spain, France, Italy and Germany. The UK beats those five when it comes to broadband take up, weekly hours using the internet and also has, of the five, the lowest proportion of people who haven't used the internet. On the crucial issue of speeds, too, the regulator is hopeful.
73% of households now have access to 'superfast' speeds of over 30Mb, Ofcom say, putting the UK ahead of the pack, where it'd previously been third out of the big European five. Moreover, take up of superfast broadband packages, which has previously
been a problem, has also passed the other European countries. Nine in a hundred actually use a fast service, according to data collected by the EC's Communications Committee (Cocom).
The claims are, as always with Ofcom, backed up with a lot of data, though not enough to satisfy some UK broadband providers, who are somewhat sceptical that, in general, UK broadband is on the up and up.
Hyperoptic, a small firm that specialises in bringing up to 1Gb broadband to large buildings like apartment blocks and offices using fibre to the building (fttb), has complained that the Ofcom claims are "overstating the progress we're making". The provider says that the claims don't tally with their experiences. In urban areas, their customers usually get just 5Mb speeds.
Although it doesn't form part of their 'scorecard', Ofcom reckon that the UK's average broadband speed is now 17.8Mb, although some other independent measurements put it much lower.
The nub of the ISP's complaint is that the increase in availability has largely been driven by a recent speed increase from Virgin Media, which put all of their customers into the superfast category, and progress in the BT Openreach roll out of fibre to the cabinet (fttc) services. The trouble with that criticism is that both the speed increase and the roll out are offering real improvements in broadband, these aren't just higher advertised speeds – they're actually faster speeds, and Ofcom freely admit the cause of the average being raised in the report.
In terms of the average speed, again, there's not much basis for complaint. Ofcom's speed reports might differ from others but the others are nowhere near as comprehensive as the UK regulator, which uses a representative sample of just over 2,000 households and measures average speeds there – in a 'real world' setting, that is – over a long period in order to draw their conclusions.
Another criticism hits closer to the mark, though. Ofcom choose to compare five European countries, knowing full well that compared to some European countries, particularly the Netherlands and Scandinavia, are far outperforming us on many of the metrics used. Again, Ofcom have anticipated this and include information on the UK's standing against 27 EU nations in their report, but probable that in a year or so's time ministers will pat themselves on the back and say they've met their target, even though they've discounted many countries in the running to get their win.