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Broadband in The United Kingdom: Falling Behind or Keeping Pace with the World?

Part 1: UK Broadband Report Raises Question of Readiness to Adopt

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Contrary to several leading broadband reports, a new report published by The Economist Intelligence Unit in the UK challenges the popular assertion that ultrafast broadband speeds deliver increased economic benefits. The report measures the impact of increased broadband speeds on the economy in the UK, but the findings could be applied to other national economies. While the findings are a bit surprising in that they directly conflict with many other reports, the report specifically measured the impact of broadband speeds on the economy of the United Kingdom. This is an important distinction because of how the country currently ranks in broadband access and adoption.

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Three months after President Obama called for the creation of a national broadband plan in the United States, the United Kingdom released its version of a National Broadband Plan, entitled "Digital Britain". Officially presented to Parliament by The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, the 226 page report presented a ambitious and progressive goal for broadband and technology in the United Kingdom:

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“Only a Digital Britain can unlock the imagination and creativity that will secure for us and our children the highly skilled jobs of the future. Only a Digital Britain will secure the wonders of an information revolution that could transform every part of our lives. Only a Digital Britain will enable us to demonstrate the vision and dynamism that we have to shape the future.”

The plan emphasizes the wide range of economic and social benefits of broadband and universal inclusion of British citizens in the digital economy, and includes specific goals related to availability:

"Availability of broadband has two components: the right network today and the right network tomorrow. To ensure all can access and benefit from the network of today, we confirm our intention to deliver the Universal Service Broadband Commitment at 2Mbps by 2012. This can be delivered through upgrades to the existing copper and wireless networks. We also propose public support for the network of tomorrow so that consumers in the Final Third who will not be reached by the market can enjoy next generation broadband. This will be a longer project which involves what amounts to installing a new network.

United Kingdom's Broadband Goals in Jeopardy

Universal Service Commitment. More than one in 10 households today cannot enjoy a 2Mbps connection. We will correct this by providing universal service by 2012. As such, the UK’s Commitment leads Europe. It has a measure of future-proofing so that, as the market deploys next-generation broadband, we do not immediately face another problem of exclusion. The USC is also a necessary step if we are to move towards digital switchover in the delivery of more and more of our public services.

The National Broadband Plan in the United States was submitted by the Federal Communications Commission in March of 2010. It consisted of 376 pages and included 60 key actions, proceedings, and initiatives with specific recommendations related to every national initiative. While some of the plans recommendations were ambitious (100Mbps to 20 million by 2020,a clear strategy was presented in the plan, and the Obama administration has implemented many recommendations and invested more than $7.2 billion in broadband through the stimulus program. Additionally, a National Broadband Map was developed to enable dynamic data collection regarding broadband availability.

Three years after the release of the United Kingdom's version of a national plan, it seems fair to evaluate the country's level of broadband availability and adoption. This would also seem to be especially relevant in light of the Economist Intelligence Unit's new report challenging the effect of increased broadband speeds on economic development. The basic question to be answered? Are the report's conclusions based on actual data measuring the correlation between increased broadband speeds and level of economic development? Or are the conclusions reached by the study's author simply an assessment of the UK's readiness to embrace technology and the benefits ultra-fast broadband networks deliver?

The United Kingdom and Global Broadband Rankings: Keeping Pace or Falling Behind?

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