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What is superfast broadband?

The UK Government defines superfast broadband as download speeds greater than 24Mbps (Megabits per second). The Scottish Government and Ofcom, the communications regulator in the UK, defines it as at least 30Mbps.

Superfast broadband has been rolled out to much of the country on commercial terms by service providers such as BT and Virgin Media. The UK Government’s policy is to provide funding to support the roll-out of superfast broadband to those areas of the UK where commercial roll-out is not economically viable. This is mostly, but not entirely, in rural areas.

The Library briefing paper, Superfast Broadband Coverage in the UK, provides further policy background up to 9 March 2017.

How is responsibility for broadband roll-out divided?

The power to legislate for telecommunications (including wireless telegraphy and internet services) is reserved to the UK Government.

However, the practical delivery of broadband roll-out is led by local bodies in England and the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means that the local bodies in England and the devolved Administrations can develop their own broadband strategies to guide the infrastructure build in their region, and set roll-out targets that are more ambitious than those set at the UK Government level.

Superfast broadband targets: Scottish Government

Superfast broadband is being delivered across Scotland under two programmes:

  • The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme aims to provide 95% of premises with superfast broadband connections by the end of 2017. The Scottish Government has stated it is on track to meet this target.
  • The Reaching 100% Programme aims to provide 100% of properties in Scotland with superfast broadband connections by 2021. An intervention area of approximately 282,800 premises has been proposed under the programme, which is expected to commence the deployment of infrastructure in 2019.

To date, options for the ‘final 5%’ of properties in Scotland remaining outside the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme has been addressed largely through the community-led projects coordinated by the Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) initiative.

UK Superfast broadband targets

The UK Government’s target is for 95% of UK premises to have access to superfast broadband connections by the end of 2017. The Government has stated that it is on track to meet this target. Further, the Government expects that this coverage should reach 97% by 2020, through a combination of public and commercial investment.

For the remaining properties not met by the BDUK superfast broadband programme, the UK Government intends to introduce a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband, which aims to provide a legal right to a minimum broadband connection of at least 10 Mbps download speed, up to a reasonable cost threshold.

More information on the USO is provided in Section 2.4 of this pack and in the Library briefing on a Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband (17 November 2017).

Rural vs urban connectivity

Broadly speaking, broadband connectivity and speeds tend to be better in urban areas than in rural areas. The statistics provided in Section 3 of this pack set out the difference in superfast broadband coverage between urban and rural areas in the UK, based on data published by Ofcom in June 2016.

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