U.K. Plans High-Speed Broadband Access for All Households, Again

Government Promised to Deliver Fast Service in 2009

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The U.K. plans to guarantee high-speed broadband access for every household and promote the use of autonomous and electric vehicles in an effort to be at the "forefront" of new technological advances.

The measures were announced on Wednesday by Queen Elizabeth II in the annual State Opening of Parliament, during which she laid out Prime Minister David Cameron's program for government.

"Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high-speed broadband" in order to "make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy," she said.

This isn't the first time the U.K. has attempted to provide broadband for all. In 2009, the then-Labour Party-led government promised to deliver two megabit per second broadband to every home by 2012, but this pledge was scrapped by Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party-led Coalition Government after its election in 2010.

Instead, the new government unveiled a plan to deliver broadband with speeds in excess of 24 megabits per second, to 90% of U.K. households by 2015. This deadline was later extended, with a new goal of delivering such connections to 95% of British households by 2017.

In November 2015, Mr. Cameron, now at the head of a new majority Conservative Party government, promised to give every U.K. citizen the right to a connection of at least 10 megabits per second. "Access to the internet shouldn't be a luxury; it should be a right -- absolutely fundamental to life in 21st-century Britain," Mr. Cameron said at the time. But in May, the government clarified that it would only provide these fast connections to remote rural areas if homeowners specifically requested them.

Following the Queen's Speech Wednesday, the government said it would introduce a Digital Economy Bill that would codify in law Mr. Cameron's promise of a universal right to broadband of at least 10 megabits per second. It estimated that this would enable 1 million British households that might otherwise be left without connections to access fast broadband. It said that those living in extremely remote areas might be expected to contribute to the cost of installing connectivity.

The government said that as part of the bill it would promulgate a new Electronic Communications Code that would make it simpler to get regulatory approval for broadband and mobile infrastructure. It estimated that this would save the industry more than one billion pounds ($1.46 billion) over 20 years.

The bill would also include new powers for Ofcom, the U.K.'s communications regulator, to force communication providers to release data on customer complaints about slow broadband speeds and other service issues. It would also make it easier for consumers to switch broadband providers and include an automatic right to compensation for consumers when they experience problems with their broadband service caused by the provider.

Finally, the bill would require that all sites containing pornographic material verify that a user is not underage before allowing them to view that content.

The U.K.'s Internet Service Providers Association, an industry trade body, said it was pleased that the Queen featured broadband and technology so prominently in her speech. "We support government action to remove barriers to rollout," James Blessing, ISPA's chairman, said in a press release. But Mr. Blessing said that questions about how universal access would be funded and what impact this would have on the market still needed to be sorted out.

Mr. Blessing also said that the industry needed further clarification of how the right to compensation would work and fit in with existing ways in which consumers can obtain redress for service problems. He also said ISPA would work with the government on how the age verification requirement for viewing pornographic sites, a "challenging and technically complex area," could be implemented.

-- Bloomberg News