The truth about European broadband

A recent news item appears to contradict testimony given during the CRTC’s recent #TalkBroadband hearing that stated, “all Europeans will have basic access by 2013. That’s been accomplished.”

According to the BBC, “The government will not automatically roll out broadband to those areas of the UK that don’t yet have services, it has been confirmed.”

The article quotes a spokesperson from the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport stating “Our current plans will reach at least 95% of the UK, but we want everyone to have fast broadband so we are introducing a Universal Service Obligation to help make sure no-one is left behind.” The article says the government hopes to have its Universal Service Obligation in place by 2020.

I checked the text of the actual presentation [pdf] to ensure there wasn’t an error in the transcripts. The original CRTC hearing speaking notes stated:

Second, the Digital Agenda’s central aims are much more ambitious than those of the FCC or the CRTC:

  1. all Europeans will have basic broadband by 2013;
  2. all Europeans will have internet access above 30 Mbps by 2020;
  3. at least half of European households will subscribe to internet connections above 100 Mbps by 2020.

How can all Europeans have basic broadband already if the UK government is saying that it could be 2020 before its universal service obligation can be fulfilled? Is the grass really so much greener elsewhere?

Despite what the CRTC was told, Canada’s broadband availability (99% – 96% at speeds of 5Mbps or higher) appears to be pretty good compared to the UK, despite the vastly different population densities and geographic challenges. Just last December, the UK government launched a satellite voucher program, to provide a higher speed option for up to 300,000 households that do not have access to internet speeds faster than 2 Mbps. Satellite is part of the solution even in the UK, a country that has almost double Canada’s population residing in a land mass less than 1/40 its size.

Policy making needs to be rooted in facts and it isn’t helpful to have incomplete evidence set before the Commission.

It is fair to say that all of us would like everyone to have access to broadband. But, there is a cost to deliver such services. The most important questions remain: how much of a subsidy is required, who should be eligible for that subsidy, and how do we pay for that subsidy.

Above all, as I have written many times before, affordable broadband isn’t just a rural issue.

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