THE BLOG

Would Labour Get Our Broadband Working?

08/04/2015 14:15 BST | Updated 08/06/2015 10:59 BST

Last week the starting pistols fired and our former parliamentarians ditched all dignity in the headlong rush to get ahead in the muddy cross-country run that is the pre-election campaign.

There are a whole five weeks to go before 7 May and over that period we will be hearing many predictions about the obliteration of the economy, NHS, school standards and local services, which, apparently, will arise from the wrong choice at the ballot box.

No doubt those are the issues of vital importance, but beyond them, lies a fundamental matter, which I have yet to hear any party address from the threshold of their battle buses.

Britain needs better broadband. It needs universally adequate broadband, in every city, every town and down every country lane.

Broadband is the fourth utility. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Just as we need water to come out when we turn on the tap, we need broadband to work when we go online.

So what did the previous government do wrong? Would a Labour government do any better?

Firstly, the next government needs to fund adequate line speeds everywhere. When the current government laid out their broadband strategy in 2010, they set 2Mbps as their minimum requirement level. In the Budget the Chancellor said 5Mbps was the basic. But as Ofcom has found, a typical household needs around 10Mbps.

So that needs to be step one: everyone from Penzance to Portree, Ballcastle to Becceles, Alnwick to Aberystwyth needs access to 10Mbps. Fifteen per cent of the UK population currently stand outside that basic level.

A necessary move, most would agree, but hugely expensive many think.

Well here's the clinch point. This government rolled out superfast broadband fibre blindly without working out where the investment would make a difference.

The reason is they appear to believe speed is the only factor affecting broadband quality. This is despite Ofcom stating emphatically last year that "for broadband speeds above 10Mbit/s, there are a variety of factors beyond speed which can have a greater on affect the consumer experience."

So if an area has poor quality broadband the government believes low speeds are the only possible explanation.

In some areas, yes, speed is the main factor behind terrible broadband quality. Those areas need infrastructure upgrades. Every pound invested there is a pound well spent. Ironically, they are disproportionally in the two percent of the UK the Government deemed too expensive to reach.

Other parts of the country, in city centres and rural areas, the infrastructure is fine, great even. Speeds are great. They are above 10Mbps. A pound spent on infrastructure here is wasted. But the broadband quality in these areas can still unacceptable: pages take ages to load, videos buffer and online banking crashes. More speed will not solve the problem. Faster line speed does not necessarily equal better.

That's why the next government needs to consider all the factors determining broadband experience. Other factors include WiFi set-up in the home or office and problems in the provider network beyond the short stretch, known as the 'last mile,' between a house or office and the local cabinet.

I am one of the co-founders of the BbFix Project, which gives users a free piece of software to allow them to do their own detective work and investigate the reason behind their poor connection.

We collate this crowd-sourced data anonymously and feed it back to Ofcom so that they find out what's going wrong where. The more data we collect, the clearer the picture we build of Britain's digital dire patches, heavenly spots and every quality grade in between.

If the next government recognises the enormous opportunity this data presents to target investment so that every pound spent on speed goes to where it's needed and if they start tackling the other factors impairing our broadband quality, then finally we can have broadband that is as consistent and reliable as water flowing from the tap.

So, bring on 7 May!

To find out more about the project and to take part by downloading the diagnostic software visit http://actual-experience.com/bbfix.