Can the UK Meet its 2017 Superfast Broadband Rollout Target?

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Four years ago the government set itself an ambitious target to bring superfast broadband to 95% of the UK by 2017 (for these purposes they defined superfast broadband as 24Mbps or higher). To achieve 2017 objective they made some impressive financial commitments. The sums set aside included £530 million to encourage private sector involvement and to help bring high speed broadband to 90% of the UK, including rural areas. An additional £250 million was dedicated to achieving 95% superfast broadband coverage by 2017 and to investigate options for bringing this service to the most remote corners of the country. By March 2014 over £75 million had already been spent on initiatives supported through the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) superfast broadband programme.

Encouraging Signs of Superfast Broadband Rollout Progress

In their latest March 2014 report Broadband UK noted that over half a million UK premises had gained superfast broadband connections in their sponsored projects. This represents 8,685 new superfast broadband connections for every million pounds of investment. The latest report from BT also presents an optimistic picture of progress made in the first half of 2014. Gavin Patterson, BT’s Chief Executive, spoke with pride of how

Our fibre broadband network now covers more than twenty million premises. We are passing over 70,000 additional premises each week and demand is strong with more than three million already signed up.

Doubts that Government Targets can be met

Despite the positive message conveyed by Broadband UK and BT, not everyone is convinced that the 95% superfast broadband rollout target is achievable by 2017. According to research undertaken by it looks unlikely that that this target will be met. Editor Andrew Ferguson believes that progress has been uneven across the regions, so even if 95% superfast broadband is achieved for the UK the benefits are not going to be equally divided.

While cities like Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Brighton and other places in more prosperous southern England are likely to have 95% superfast broadband coverage, northern areas of Scotland and rural counties in England’s West Midlands will probably have to continue managing with an inferior broadband service. Even in England’s southeast serious superfast broadband coverage gaps are probably going to remain. One of the most surprising of these gaps is the City of London where Ferguson expects under a quarter of premises to be connected to superfast broadband by 2017.

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