THE BLOG

Broadband, Mobile, and the Conservative Manifesto - The Good, the Bad, and the Fluffy

17/04/2015 11:26 BST | Updated 15/06/2015 10:59 BST

While future connectivity across the broad span of the UK populace may seem fairly unimportant set against welfare, housing or immigration, say, it's likely that some of us will feel its impact day-to-day in a more real sense than any or all of those issues.

And yet, the UK press has, by and large, ignored these elements of the conservative manifesto. Oh look, I said to myself; no one's taken the time to break down what the Conservatives mean by 'near universal superfast' or 'world leader in 5G' and all its other connectivity pledges. No one's taken the time to place each of them on the spectrum running between the sensible and the solid, and their airy and guff-laden.

So, without further ado - manifesto pledges are in bold.

We will provide rural Britain with near universal superfast broadband by the end of the next Parliament and secure the future of 3,000 rural Post Offices.

Labour's impracticable pledge to provide every home in the UK with 'affordable, high-speed broadband for all' by 2020 appears to have had some influence. The Conservatives are - far more wisely - eschewing one-upmanship in favour of employing terminological fluff to describe their connectivity intentions across the next term.

Since a person, party or community will no more be able to accuse the government of breaking its manifesto pledge than they will to define exactly what was meant by 'near universal' in the first place, it promises nothing tangible.

We will secure the delivery of superfast broadband in urban and rural areas to provide coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017, and we will ensure no one is left behind by subsidising the cost of installing superfast capable satellite services in the very hardest to reach areas.

This government's promise to reach 95% of the UK with superfast broadband by 2017 is already over two years in process.

It should be noted, however, that superfast now reaches only around 80% of UK homes. The government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, which works alongside BT Openreach, must reach twice as many homes in the next two years than it has in the last two in order to reach its target.

I will be elated if BT and whichever incumbent somehow manages that, but its chances appear rather bleak at this time.

Subsidy on cost of installation of satellite broadband for remote, rural dwellings is welcome. Satellite broadband can cost up to ten times regular copper broadband or fibre, so if the government can even the playing field, that can only be a good thing.

However, there are many use cases that make satellite and copper or fibre broadband an apples and oranges comparison. Satellite tends to be far less reliable and the latency caused by beaming data to space and back makes many applications difficult, impossible, or at the very least downright irritating.

Without an unequivocal promise to roll fibre broadband out to every dwelling in the UK, there will always be a significant portion of our society at a digital disadvantage.

We have set an ambition that ultrafast broadband should be available to nearly all UK premises as soon as practicable.

While superfast broadband - defined variously as 'speeds above 24Mbps' and 'speeds above 30Mbps' depending on whom you ask - is yet to reach around 5 million UK households, don't expect to receive ultrafast - mostly defined as speeds over 100Mbps - anytime soon.

Labour has promised fast broadband to every household in the UK by 2020 - a promise that seems to me to take no account of the scale of engineering, geographical and budgetary challenges such an undertaking would demand. The Conservatives have instead hedged. Sensibly, I might add.

We will hold the mobile operators to their new legally binding agreement to ensure that 90 per cent of the UK landmass will have voice and SMS coverage by 2017.

While you'll often hear networks advertising 99% coverage, such figures apply to population, not landmass. Which is why the UK is still riddled with 'not-spots' - places where you cannot receive a mobile signal of any kind.

A pledge to address the issue is a welcome one. Living, working, or even passing through such an area is at best frustrating, and at worst - in instances of accidents occurring in remote locations - a threat to life.

We will continue to invest in mobile infrastructure to deliver coverage for voice calls and text messages for the final 0.3 - 0.4 per cent of UK premises that do not currently have it. We will ensure that Britain seizes the chance to be a world leader in the development of 5G, playing a key role in defining industry standards.

The Conservative Party is referring here to '2G'. It's amazing to think, while the most current conversations extoll the virtues of 5G that there are still a significant number of people who live and/or work in regions of the country where they can't even send a text message. This will be welcome news to the unlucky few.

On the matter of 5G: 'seizing chances' 'playing a key role' 'a world leader' - all terms that have no agreed definition or standard. I have no doubt that the UK will play some role in the future of 5G, but the precise shape of that role remains a mystery to me. Just as it apparently does to this government.