There's lies, damned lies and statistics. The UK broadband situation may be rapidly improving, but politicians sure know how to gloss things up.
For years the United Kingdom has had to put up with cocky Europeans laughing at our broadband speeds and prices (in particular a certain Swede in the TrustedReviews labs), but do we now have the ammunition to stop this sniggering once and for all? Well, when you look a bit closer, the answer is ”not quite yet”.
The potential for misinterpretation stems from the results of an ambiguous Ovum report and subsequent conference on E-Commerce at London’s Docklands this week. It makes the surprising announcement that the UK has the most broadly distributed broadband of all the G7 countries and the third most competitive.
To be fair, the results of the extensiveness table (above, taken from the original report) are hardly earth shattering given the reasonably wide ranging number of enabled telcos. When you think about it, nowhere is Britain is that remote either which is probably a bit of an advantage.
More of a shock, however, is the UK’s third place ranking for competitiveness (see below). Naturally, the recently announced BT speed increases are helping here, but even so it is well known that countries like France (who are shown as fourth in the table) can get speeds of up to 20Mbit/sec for under 30 euros per month.
To put ourselves in context, we can only assume prices in the more distant areas of France offset such great value deals in the major cities, or that we threatened to invade them if we couldn’t have a podium finish? Nullifying the Americans is the lack of high speed connections available to some of the Square States and along the country’s various mountainous regions. Traditional “G8” member Russia has also been left out the tables altogether, although I think it is safe to assume it is unlikely to trouble the front runners.
There are further holes in this survey as well, notably because while G7 in a political sense covers arguably the most influential countries on the planet, that means little in the world of broadband. The Scandinavian countries are not included, for example, with Sweden (don’t remind me again!) offering 10Mbit/sec connections both ways (upstream/downstream) at a fraction of lower speed connections here in the UK. It would be wrong to rule out some of the poorer European countries as well, with the Czech Republic also benefiting from a fairly advanced broadband network.
All of which rather takes the shine somewhat off what this smiley chap, Mike O’Brien – PM Minister of State for Energy and E-Commerce, had to say at the recent conference:
””We said we wanted the UK to be the best place in the world for e-business and, with broadband now available to 96% of households and more than 6 million people already subscribing, this is fast becoming a reality. Hosting this ASEM conference for the first time here in London is another sign that the UK is determined to lead the way and to realise the potential of e-commerce for the global community.””
In short, putting Mr O’Brien’s politician speak to one side for a moment, the UK ”is” making progress. It may not be number one just yet, but it is undoubtedly improving.
In related news, UK Online – currently the only network provider offering 8Mbit/sec broadband in the country (subject to line availability, of course) – has announced it is extending its offer of a free wireless router until 1 April for all customers who sign up for its £39.99 per month service. The promotion has been running since 20 January.
Meanwhile, fellow ISP PlusNet will start trialling 8Mbit/sec connections in April which, if successful, it hopes to bring to market in Q4.